New York’s Hottest Underground Art Scene: The Second Avenue Subway

Wednesday, February 22, 2017
There’s a new contemporary art museum in town. The admission price? $2.75. The place? The Second Avenue Subway’s newest stops at 63rd, 72nd, 86th, and 96th Streets. The tiles that line the stations’ walls now incorporate installations of permanent, large-scale contemporary mosaics—unlike anything New Yorkers or tourists have seen at any MTA subway station. The MTA Arts and Design department, which has been making subway stations more aesthetically pleasing since 1985, commissioned works by such artists as Sarah Sze, Chuck Close, Vik Muniz, and Jean Shin. Each has a station dedicated entirely to his or her work. So if you don’t usually find yourself taking the Q (the line that now runs along Second Avenue), go hop from station to station and browse this new subterranean museum as you travel through New York.

63rd Street – Jean Shin: Elevated

The panel at the MTA Arts and Design department selected Brooklyn-based Shin’s work for the permanent exhibit at the 63rd Street station. Shin's installation sheds new light on the New York subway’s 113-year history: She has re-created archival images of the elevated Second and Third Avenue trains out of ceramic tile and mosaic glass designs. Now when commuters descend into the station, they are, according to the artist, “transported in time and space to the dismantling of the previous transportation network [in New York City].”
Photo courtesy of MTA Photo courtesy of MTA

72nd Street – Vik Muniz: Perfect Strangers

The Brazilian artist’s work focuses on liminality and shows the in-between moments of New Yorkers’ underground commutes. Muniz showcases imagery of strangers in everyday scenarios—from a police officer eating a Popsicle to a boy holding seven pizza boxes to an off-duty mascot in a tiger costume—standing next to one another waiting on a subway platform. The work, which spans the 72nd Street station, features more than 36 diverse New Yorkers, including Muniz himself, captured spilling papers from his briefcase.
Photo courtesy of MTA Photo courtesy of MTA

86th Street – Chuck Close: Subway Portraits

New York is known for being a diverse metropolis, so Close’s installation at the 86th Street station depicts a vibrant mix of New Yorkers. For this display, his photo-based portrait paintings were transformed into images made from mosaic and ceramic tiles. His permanent exhibit features 12 nine-foot-tall portraits of cultural legends and artists like Lou Reed, Philip Glass, Kara Walker, Zhang Huan, and Cecily Brown, as well as self-portraits of the artist himself.
Photo courtesy of MTA Photo courtesy of MTA

96th Street – Sarah Sze: Blueprint for a Landscape

 Sze, the U.S. representative for the 2013 Venice Biennale, has a 14,000-square-foot mosaic display with more than 4,000 porcelain tiles on the walls of the 96th Street station. The artist enlisted the help of Spanish tile masters in order to include different shades of blue to line each entrance and concourse. She uses blue and white throughout her permanent minimalist installation, which depicts birds, trees, scaffolding, and flying loose-leaf paper caught up in gusts of wind.

Photo courtesy of MTA Photo courtesy of MTA