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Photos

The World-Class Art of New York's Second Avenue Subway

Vik Muniz, Chuck Close, and others have made the soon-to-be-opened line into something like an underground museum.

On Monday, New York debuted the biggest permanent public-art exhibit in state history inside the soon-to-be-opened Second Avenue subway. Though officials didn’t mention it, this is probably also New York’s first permanent exhibit to feature a tiger furry, executed in colorful mosaics by acclaimed Brazilian artist Vik Muniz.

The artworks sprawl along walls and ceilings in three new Second Avenue stops at 96th Street, 86th Street, and 72nd Street, as well as a new entrance at 63rd Street. Along with Muniz, other heavy-hitters involved are Chuck Close—whose gridded portraits seem custom-tailored for subway-mosaic translations—New York’s Jean Shin, and MacArthur Fellow Sarah Sze.

“The Second Avenue subway provides New Yorkers with a museum underground and honors our legacy of building engineering marvels that elevate the human experience,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a press statement. Here’s what commuters can gawk at on January 1 when the subway line is supposed to open, carrying an estimated 200,000 people a day.

Jean Shin’s “Elevated” installations reference historical photos of Manhattan’s creaky, antiquated elevated trains, the last of which (on Third Avenue) was dismantled in the 1950s. (MTA Arts and Design/Rob Wilson)
(MTA Arts and Design/Rob Wilson)
Jean Shin, “Elevated” (MTA Arts and Design/Rob Wilson)
Vik Muniz’s “Perfect Strangers,” based on actual photos, pay tribute to all the folks you might encounter on New York’s subway, including a flustered business man, bored-looking school kids, and a fur-suited feline. (MTA Arts and Design/Rob Wilson)
(MTA Arts and Design/Rob Wilson)
(MTA Arts and Design/Rob Wilson)
Vik Muniz, “Perfect Strangers” (MTA Arts and Design/Rob Wilson)
Chuck Close’s “Subway Portraits” present a dozen huge faces of cultural figures such as Lou Reed (above), Philip Glass, Kara Walker, and the artist himself. (MTA Arts and Design/Rob Wilson)
(MTA Arts and Design/Rob Wilson)
(MTA Arts and Design/Rob Wilson)
Chuck Close, “Subway Portraits” (MTA Arts and Design/Rob Wilson)
Sarah Sze’s “Blueprint for a Landscape” seems to riff on the tsunami of face-blasting air that accompanies every train arrival and departure, with items caught up in the wind like leaves, birds, paper, and scaffolding. (MTA Arts and Design/Rob Wilson)
(MTA Arts and Design/Rob Wilson)
Sarah Sze, “Blueprint for a Landscape” (MTA Arts and Design/Rob Wilson)

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.