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Second Avenue subway art unveiled as Cuomo confirms Jan. 1 launch date of the line

Long-suffering Upper East Siders are ready to pop the cork!

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the MTA on Monday confirmed a Jan. 1 public opening of the Second Avenue line and unveiled the art and architectural details for three new stations at 72nd, 86th and 96th streets and a redesigned 63rd Street at an event at the Museum of Modern Art on Monday.

“This really is just the beginning, I believe, of a new period of enlightened birth,” said Cuomo, speaking grandly about building new infrastructure in the region. “We know what we need to do. We know what made us great. Now we just need to do it. And we know that we can.”

An inaugural Second Avenue ride will take place on Dec. 31, carrying officials and perhaps a few glasses of Champagne.

The first public train will head under Second Avenue at noon the next day, when an uptown Q train departs from the 57th-7th Avenue station. Trains will run every six minutes during peak hours and will run from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. for the rest of the first week. Overnight service will begin on Monday, Jan. 9.

The new line, which will at the moment exist as the northern terminus of Q trains, is expected to serve about 200,000 daily riders and relieve the congested Lexington Avenue line that runs nearby.

But unlike the stuffy stations of the 4, 5 and 6 trains, the new Second Avenue line will feature a “spacious” mezzanine level, domed ceilings and column-less platforms. Cuomo gushed over their design and went as far as to say that it will have somewhat of a profound impact on riders.

“The architecture of these new stations is special,” Cuomo said. “The subway stations of themselves will give you a sense of space that you have never felt before in a subway station. That claustrophobia that descended on you when you walked into a subway station is gone … I think it will encourage a different type of human behavior.”

The MTA turned to four New York-established artists—Chuck Close, Sarah Sze, Jean Shin and Vik Muniz—to bring the stations to life with their work. Mosaics peppering platforms and elevate entryways, brought together under unifying themes that celebrate the diversity and history of New York City, and by extension, its subway riders.

There are large portraits of every-day New Yorkers. Some zoom close to their faces; others offer wider scenes like a child reaching for a balloon or a man reading in a Yankees cap.

“I think you’ll find the art there exhilarating,” MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast told the crowd at the museum. “I think you’ll find the environment vastly different than what you see in the New York City subway and you’ll be pleased, I think, with the end product.”

The governor’s office is billing the art installations as “the largest permanent public art installation in New York history.”

Funding for the stations’ art was provided through the MTA’s Arts for Transit at the tune of $4.5 million, part of the whopping $4.45 billion cost for the long-delayed subway project.

63rd Street

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 harken 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 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.

72nd Street

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. 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.

86th Street

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

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."

96th Street

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

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.

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


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