First look at the Second Avenue Subway’s $4.5M public art installation

December 19, 2016

If a sparkling new line isn’t cause enough to celebrate, once the Second Avenue Subway opens on January 1st, 2017, millions of New Yorkers will also be treated to several stretches of world-class art while navigating the 96th, 86th, 72nd, and 63rd Street stations. As the Times first reports, the MTA has poured $4.5 million into beautifying the stations with contemporary tile artworks by famed names Chuck Close, Sarah Sze, Vik Muniz, and Jean Shin.


While art seems like the last thing the cash-strapped MTA should be spending on, as the paper writes, the agency sees the project as means to “put the aesthetic front and center again in a way that evokes the ambition of the city’s first subway stations.” Indeed, integrating ornamentation like mosaics, stained glass, and tiled ceilings was once as important as laying down tracks. A prime example: the City Hall Station, which opened in 1904. Moreover, the undertaking reveals an effort by the MTA to make New York’s subway stations architectural destinations rather than just public utilities, something that’s at the center of transit design in Asia and Europe.

“At some point government adopted an attitude that its job was to build things that were functional but unattractive and unappealing,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement to Times. “But that’s not how it has always been, and it’s not how it should be.”

At today’s unveiling Cuomo added, “… while we were doing public works it was about an expression of who we were, what we believe, and was an impression and a gesture communicating that we have a character of society. Every public work was also artwork and also an educational experience. A child who had never walked into a museum or never walked into an art gallery, if they just walked around the streets of New York, they would be exposed to the art, education, and culture just by being a New Yorker, and that is where we came from and what made New York special.”

Second Avenue Subway, Second Avenue Subway art, Second Avenue Subway design, subway art, art nyc, Chuck Close, Vik Muniz


The four artists were chosen by the MTA Arts & Design, the agency’s art department, from a pool of 300-plus applicants. Each was given a station as a blank canvas. The project is the city’s largest permanent installation

More in our gallery below.


Images courtesy of the Governor’s office

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  1. J

    This is the most flagrant misuse of money and time that just blows me away. How arrogant are these morons who are supposed to provide a working subway for all of us who live and work here in Manhattan. Ironic that this pathetic organization would put these stupid and pointless ‘works of art’ all over the subway walls….. for what purpose? The second avenue line is minutes away from at least eight of the most superb art museums in the world? What the hell are they doing? Get the FBI in to investigate these crooks. Get on with providing subways and buses that work in NY. With all the massive new skyscrapers being built on the West side, there’s no subway down the Hudson on 11th Ave. And few buses to take people to a subway, scheduled buses don’t even show up?! These are the kinds of things they should be focusing on. And stop putting malls in places like 59th street. No one buys anything at these useless venues. How do they get away with this. Clearly none of the people responsible in Albany have had to fight their way on subways that are filthy, overcrowded and totally inadequate in a city where 9 million people live and which is visited annually by 60 million mostly american tourists.

  2. S

    These are “New Yorkers”, some fairly typical, some not so typical at all.
    Fine. But it’s something we see (and smell, and touch) all-too-much of
    in our jam-packed daily commutes. To mis-quote Wordsworth:
    The subway crowds are too much with us – so enough already!
    Art should be much more than a mere mirror, or even a fun-house mirror.
    Why not something to raise our spirits and our morale,
    something to inspire us, to challenge us, perhaps even to transform us?
    Even the richly colorful mosaics of old downtown subway stations have more to offer than this…