One of my most favorite New York City hangouts since childhood has been The American Museum of Natural History. Many happy hours have been spent roaming through the mammoth (no pun intended) halls where in muted light, the modern-day slips away and I am transported to another time and place. During my career in advertising many evening business functions were held in the Great Hall of Mammals – can you imagine confronting this after imbibing one too many cocktails?
Since I am also now a member of the AMNH I have the additional gift having access to after-hours behind the scenes experiences.
Yet once again, this die-hard New Yorker has missed until my “Art of the Subways” tour an amazing exhibit highlighting the treasures of the museum, for on the walls, stairs and floors of the 79th – 81st Street Subway station there exists bronze, granite, ceramic and glass mosaic murals and figures portraying the wonders of our world. And this is available to all, for the cost of one subway fare (in “olden” days I could have said the cost of a token, but sadly these items no longer exist).
“For Want of a Nail” is the name of the art installation and this exhibit differs from the others I have shared ( this one and this one) in previous posts as it actually incorporates not only the museum above, but also the subway platforms themselves. This innovative approach tells the story of the evolution of life starting from the big bang, to the amorphous ooze to earth’s geological strata to sunrise and starry skies:
I will give myself a tiny dispensation as these mosaics did not exist until station renovations in the 1990’s that were done in coordination with the building of the new Planetarium. Ironically I recently went to an evening of viewing the winter sky at the Hayden Planetarium in the Rose Center for Earth and Science (which if you do not know is part of the whole AMNH complex) and still missed seeing these treasures. However I did drive my own car to get there instead of riding the subway. By the way, above ground is a pretty spectacular MMB* view as well:
Back below ground to experience each section of the subway station which displays a chapter in the story of where we come from. The title “For Want of a Nail:” from a proverb to show the connections between the tiniest cell and the vast universe and/or the fact that one simple occurrence can create large-scale change:
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
Unlike the other subway art installations I have covered, this one does not identify individual artists – not sure why. In any event let’s take a look at the various stages of evolution as depicted in this multi-media wonder.
FOSSILS – Metal casts seemingly emerge from the subway wall tiles, inviting passersby to touch and explore – unusual in that very fact that for once we are not told “DO NOT TOUCH.” It feels as though we are on an exploratory excavation:
The upper platform wall features the diversity of life, past and present. . Along the platform edges is a strip of marble, with engraved decorations depicting artifacts found in the Museum.
EVOLUTION: EXISTING, ENDANGERED AND EXTINCT LIFE FORMS – This very long exhibit uses all surfaces of the station – walls, floor, even existing signs in an extremely innovative way to show the parade of life. Current species are shown in full color, endangered species have a question mark *?* incorporated into its shape and extinct species are shown in grey tiles. Soe of the creatures are positioned so cleverly as to appear to be emerging from or submerging under the ground or hanging on the signs. Simply brilliant:
OCEAN LIFE– This mural is one of my favorites, not only for its vibrant colors and uncanny depictions of sea creatures, but for the fact that it evokes the swaying movement of the ocean currents (the image is not unfocused – I have obscured some passersby:
OCEAN LIFE PART 2 – This is frankly easy to miss if you are mesmerized by the mosaics on the walls – but looking down you see swimming creatures heading to and from the turnstiles as if they too, are subway commuters:
SUBWAY PETROGLYPHS?? – Another floor surprise – but these guys should have been told they shouldn’t be so close to the dangerous edge of the platform:
There are lots more subway art installations to explore including some exquisite ones in the outside boroughs (not Manhattan). Future posts, for sure!