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NYC subway art: Second Avenue-72nd Street, Court Square and more stations

The subway may feel like a necessary evil to some, with its slow or delayed service and overcrowded trains.

But in its own way, the MTA makes up for the harsh realities of public transit by providing beautiful artwork at many of its stations.

Since the MTA Arts & Design was established in the 1980s, the agency has commissioned more than 300 works from artists, creating a broad spectrum of entertainment for our eyes as we get to and from our daily destinations.

Take a look at some of the interesting works of art you can find around New York City — all of it just a train ride away.

36th Street-Fourth Avenue, Brooklyn

A five-panel mosaic tile series by Owen Smith,
Photo Credit: Polly Higgins

A five-panel mosaic tile series by Owen Smith, "An Underground Movement: Designers, Builders, Riders," greets riders entering Sunset Park, Brooklyn's 36th Street station at Fourth Avenue, servicing the D, N and R lines. Installed in the late 1990s, three detailed, large-scale works form a U for patrons passing through the turnstiles into the station; two smaller pieces are embedded above the two stairwells.

Second Avenue-63rd Street, Manhattan

At the rebuilt 63rd Street station, Jean Shin
Photo Credit: Office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo / Tara Foster

At the rebuilt 63rd Street station, Jean Shin used archival photographs to hark back to the Second Avenue El (the demolished elevated line that ran above Second and Third avenues until the summer of 1940) as well as the New Yorkers who were ambling around it. Her piece -- made of ceramic tile, glass mosaic, and laminated glass -- is called "Elevated."

"I feel that role as artists being able to infuse beauty, history, memory, the reimagined into pubic audiences who commute every day -- and having art be part of their everyday experience -- is humbling," Shin said.

Second Avenue-72nd Street, Manhattan

Vik Muniz's
Photo Credit: Office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo / Tara Foster

Vik Muniz's "Perfect Strangers," at the new Second Avenue subway station at 72nd Street, focuses on the diverse group of New Yorkers who live and work near the station. Over three dozen human-scale portraits line the station's platform.

"I thought of creating these effigies of people that would be life-sized so they would mix with the flowing passengers," Muniz said.

The main entrance to the station also boasts an etched glass canopy featuring a flock of birds in flight.

Second Avenue-86th Street, Manhattan

Chuck Close's installation,
Photo Credit: Office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo / Tara Foster

Chuck Close's installation, "Subway Portraits," features 12 large-scale works based on his painstakingly detailed, photo-based portrait paintings. His various painting techniques have been interpreted in 10 works as mosaic, and in two as ceramic tile. The artworks, nearly nine feet high, are installed on the walls at the station entrances and the mezzanine concourse.

The people portrayed are cultural figures who have frequently been his subjects, including Philip Glass, Zhang Huan, Kara Walker, Alex Katz, Cecily Brown, Cindy Sherman and Lou Reed (pictured), as well as two self-portraits.

"My thinking was, A: I wanted mosaics upstairs to reflect the riders below," Close said. "But the other thing was I wanted to do as much as possible -- each piece is a different methodology."

Second Avenue-96th Street, Manhattan

Sarah Sze gets a little more abstract with
Photo Credit: Office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo / Tara Foster

Sarah Sze gets a little more abstract with her project, "Blueprint for a Landscape," which features mundane city objects -- sheets of paper, scaffolding, birds -- tussled together on blue and white porcelain wall tile.

The artwork spans about 14,000 square feet and includes references to energy fields and wind patterns.

"What's really exciting for me is the idea that the entire subway station could become a submersive experience," Sze said.

Woodhaven Boulevard, Queens

Sometimes the art at a subway station isn't
Photo Credit: Lauren Cook

Sometimes the art at a subway station isn't where you would typically expect to find it. Case in point: "In Memory of the Lost Battalion" at the Woodhaven Boulevard station in Queens. Artist Pablo Tauler transformed nine of the mezzanine's support beams into works of art featuring glass, stainless steel and iron. The beams pay tribute to the Lost Battalion, a group of soldiers -- mostly New Yorkers -- who were lost in battle during World War I, according to the MTA. "Especially interesting to me is the manipulation of light through the use of texture and reflective materials," Tauler has told the MTA.

Lexington Avenue-59th Street, Manhattan

The glass mosaic artwork on the walls connecting
Photo Credit: Lauren Cook

The glass mosaic artwork on the walls connecting the 4, 5, 6, N, Q and R trains at the Lexington Avenue-59th Street station are simply impossible to miss. The glass mosaic called "Blooming" features brilliant colors and shapes that wrap around the corners of the hallways as well as the doorways and down steps, creating an optical illusion of sorts. According to the MTA, the title was taken from Bloomingdale's, which is located above the station. Artist Elizabeth Murray has told the MTA she views the subway as a place to wake up -- and what better way to accomplish that then with bright colors and cups of coffee? "I added the stepping shoes and steaming coffee cups, part of the ritual of every morning or evening subway trip," Murray told the MTA. The mosaic also features lines from William Butler Yeats' "In Dreams Begin Responsibility" and Gwendolyn Brooks' "The Second Sermon on the Warpland. "

Metropolitan Avenue-Lorimer Street, Brooklyn

The glass and ceramic tile mosaics along the
Photo Credit: Lauren Cook

The glass and ceramic tile mosaics along the walls of the mezzanine and transfer hallways at the Metropolitan Avenue and Lorimer Street station in Brooklyn leaves much in the way of interpretation of their meanings. Jackie Chang's "Signs of Life" is more simplistic in design than other mosaics in the subway system, boasting messages like "Faith" and "Fate" split between a rock. The MTA said the intent is to spark multiple interpretations of the same artwork. "I kept my titles brief," Chang told the MTA. "I wanted them to be challenging."

135th Street, Manhattan

In a nod to the Harlem Renaissance, the
Photo Credit: Lauren Cook

In a nod to the Harlem Renaissance, the mosaic artwork at the 135th Street 2 and 3 subway station is part of the MTA's series titled "Harlem Timeline." On the downtown platform, you'll find an energetic glass mosaic by Willie Birch that pays tribute to such luminaries as Charlie Parker, the Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and Langston Hughes. On the northbound platform, an equally vibrant mosaic features Billie Holiday. Birch also incorporated textile designs from Africa and Mexico as well as elements of visionary folk art and African-American Quilts, per the MTA.

Jackson Avenue, the Bronx

Not all of the MTA's art is inside.
Photo Credit: Lauren Cook

Not all of the MTA's art is inside. At the Jackson Avenue 2 and 5 station in the Bronx, the aboveground platforms feature stained glass by George Crespo titled "Latin American Stories." Each side of the station boasts two stained glass windows that tell tales of Latin American folklore and myth from six different regions, according to the MTA. Here, you can visually explore the stories of the Mayan myth "How Frogs Brought Rain to Mexico," the Brazilian myth "How Fire Came to the Rain Forest," "The King That Tried to Touch the Moon" from the Lesser Antilles, "The Beginning of the Sea" from Greater Antilles and a Latin American version of "Cinderella."

34th Street-Hudson Yards, Manhattan

One of the newest additions to the MTA's
Photo Credit: Rob Wilson

One of the newest additions to the MTA's collection of subway artworks is Xenobia Bailey's "Funktional Vibrations," located at the entrance of the 34th Street-Hudson Yards station. Bursting with color, the glass mosaic tiling features hypnotizing mandalas, patterns and textures that cannot be overlooked -- even by the busiest of New Yorkers. And the entrance to the station is only the beginning. As you walk into the mezzanine, look up to find a vibrant glass mosaic embedded in the dome of the station's ceiling. According to the MTA, Bailey first created the mosaics as crocheted pieces, a medium that she primarily works in, before transferring them to a digital form. The artwork was then enlarged and interpreted into mosaic by Miotto Mosaic Art Studio. Bailey's artwork is also one of the largest commissioned by the MTA's Arts & Design collection.

Court Square, Queens

The glass mosaic tiling in the connecting hallway
Photo Credit: Lauren Cook

The glass mosaic tiling in the connecting hallway between the E, M, G and 7 trains at the Court Square station in Queens is one of the more well-known subway artworks, but that doesn't make it any less impressive. Elizabeth Murray's "Stream" brings an otherwise long and barren hallway to life. The MTA said Murray titled the work as such to "evoke the feet of travelers as they stream out along the passageway." The bright reds, blues, oranges and yellows are meant to energize riders as they go about their daily commutes.

81st Street-Museum of Natural History, Manhattan

History comes alive when you step off the
Photo Credit: <a href="" target="_blank">Scott Beale / Laughing Squid</a>

History comes alive when you step off the subway at the 81st Street-Museum of Natural History subway stop -- and no, we're not talking about "Night at the Museum." Here, you will find "For Want of a Nail" created by the Arts for Transit Collaborative. Made up of a variety of materials -- glass, ceramic, bronze and granite -- the station's artwork was created to give riders a preview of what they can expect at the Museum of Natural History, which is located above the station. According to the MTA, the collection of artists from the MTA and the museum worked together to bring to life 10 key disciplines at the museum, from extinct animals to outer space and beyond.

Myrtle-Wyckoff avenues, Brooklyn

The next time you find yourself in the
Photo Credit: Lauren Cook

The next time you find yourself in the Myrtle-Wyckoff avenues station in Brooklyn, be sure to walk up to the top where the M train is located and look up. There, you will find a beautiful mosaic made of ceramic, glass and marble covering the circular ceiling. Cadence Giersbach's "From Earth to Sky" brings light and life into the station with images of birds, butterflies and greenery beneath a blue sky. In the center of the mosaic, Giersbach included a birds-eye image of the city within an oculus. With opaque windows on all sides, the artwork brings a freshness to the station.

Bleecker Street, Manhattan

Perhaps it is meant as commentary on the
Photo Credit: James Ewing

Perhaps it is meant as commentary on the busy bee worker mentality ingrained in the culture of New York City or as a reference to the technology-heavy lifestyle of the 21st Century? One thing is for sure: Leo Villareal's "Hive" gets people talking. Made of stainless steal, aluminum, LED tubes, electrical hardware and custom software, the honeycomb sculpture that adorns the Bleecker Street station is both vivid and engaging. According to the MTA, the artwork explores "the compulsion to recognize patterns and the brain's hard coded desire to understand and make meaning." "Hive" is particularly intriguing for anyone interested in mathematics, as the sculpture takes inspiration from mathematician and Game of Life inventor, John Conway, according to the MTA.

34th Street-Penn Station, Manhattan

Some liken the bustle of Penn Station to
Photo Credit: Lauren Cook

Some liken the bustle of Penn Station to a circus, so it may be of no surprise that the murals inside the 34th Street-Penn Station stop for the downtown A, C and E draw on that inspiration. Artist Eric Fischl's "The Garden of Circus Delights" is made up of several glass mosaic murals that feature fire-breathers, acrobats, and animals. "I thought it would be amusing, to do a contemporary Dante's Inferno, to turn commuting into a spiritual quest," Fischl told the MTA.


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