Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
Artist William Wegman’s famous Weimaraners are now immortalized in mosaics in the New York subway.
Artist William Wegman began photographing his Weimaraners in the 1970s. Since then, his portraits of them have become famous, brightening up Sesame Street, museums, and fashion magazines. Now, they will help New York subway riders feel a little better about their commute.
Flo and Topper—who are the 75-year-old artist’s ninth and tenth Weimaraners —grace the walls of the redesigned 23rd Street (M and F lines) station in multiple poses and outfits as part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Enhanced Station Initiative. The dog portraits, turned into mosaics by Mayer of Munich, provide a pleasant distraction for rush-hour commuters navigating the congested march in and out of the nearly 80-year-old station.
Wegman’s dogs have been called upon to help weary travelers before: In 2005, two of them were dressed as astronauts for permanent portraits high up on the vaulted concrete ceilings inside L’Enfant Plaza Metro station in Southwest D.C. And inside a Maine Turnpike rest stop in Kennebunkport, a 2007 mural depicts four of the silver-colored dogs with their heads tilted up. “But no one ever looks up at it,” the artist told CityLab.
When deciding what to create for the MTA, Wegman knew it would be a challenge to get straphangers’ attention. “When I go to these stations, I do look at the mosaics,” he said, “but maybe that’s because I’m an artist … typically, people are thinking more about where they’re going.”
Even though Flo and Topper had previously posed for French Vogue, Wegman decided to keep things simple on 23rd Street, presenting them as relatable, conventionally dressed figures seemingly looking for the next train. Despite that, the dogs will certainly attract notice inside a station that had been devoid of anything worth absorbing up until its late November reopening. “The public already knows Bill’s work, so it’s like seeing old friends,” said Sandra Bloodworth, director of MTA Arts & Design (the commission selects artists for station works and is budgeted through a Percent For Art program). The mosaics present instantly familiar work in a new light, leaving Wegman impressed with “how exceptional the shirts and coats look in stone and glass translation.”
“You can almost feel the moisture on the dog's nose,” added Bloodworth.
Wegman’s addition to the New York subway is a delight for its users and a testament to MTA Art and Design’s ability to create moments of joy in a transit system otherwise known for its headaches. Like many other recently upgraded MTA stations, 23rd and 6th still lacks elevator access. New art, information screens, tiles, benches, and lighting are great, but nearly 30 years since the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act, this prewar station is no easier to access.
Correction:A previous version of this story mispelled Sandra Bloodworth's name.