When the Second Avenue Subway takes its inaugural ride on January 1, 2017, straphangers will be greeted by more than just easier access to the Upper East Side.
The four new stations unveiling in Phase 1 will all be outfitted with public art by world-renowned artists. Jean Shin: Elevated is on view at the 63rd Street station; Vik Muniz, Perfect Strangers is at the 72nd Street station; Chuck Close, Subway Portraits is at the 86th Street station; and Blueprint for a Landscape by Sarah Sze is at the 96th Street station.
Close's installation features 12 mosaics, including large-scale depictions of Philip Glass, Zhang Huan, Kara Walker, Alex Katz, Cecily Brown, Cindy Sherman and Lou Reed, as well as two self portraits. “I wanted my art to reflect the ridership and the people in the cars,” says Close. “They’re an incredible, rich and complex mix of attitudes.”
With the exception of the portraits of Philip Glass and Lou Reed, which were created in California, the works were crafted by a team of mosaicists in Canada. "They do the best work of anybody I've ever seen," says Close. Many of the subjects are familiar to Close, who has depicted them in other exhibitions throughout his 50-year career.
Plans for the long-awaited Second Avenue Subway have been in the works since 1929. Close has been in contact with the MTA for about 15 years, though this is the first time that his pieces have been installed in the world's largest public transportation network.
“I think there’s something important about choosing to go see art,” says Close on public art. However, “the subway provides some of that,” he says. "I think one of the nicest things that’s been said about the work is that my beard alone is reason enough for missing the train,” says Close of his self-portrait, referencing a New York Times article.
Phase 1 of the Second Avenue Subway will officially open to the public at noon on January 1, after an inaugural New Year's Eve ride and party with Governor Andrew Cuomo. The line will ease congestion on the Lexington Avenue subway, and the first phase will extend the Q train from 63rd Street to 96th Street. Eventually the new line will stretch from 125th Street in Harlem to Hanover Square in Lower Manhattan.
"This is a good opportunity for me to grow as an artist, which is always fun," reflects Close on the project. “There are already wonderful mosaics in the subway system,” he says. “My favorite is a piece that Eric Fishl did of a circus, under Madison Square Garden.”
Close first came to New York in 1967, establishing himself as a talented photorealist. He is now based in Bridgehampton, Long Beach and New York City. Close received the National Medal of Arts from President Bill Clinton in 2000, and he was appointed to the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities by President Barack Obama in 2010. He is represented by Pace Gallery.
All photos courtesy the Metropolitan Transit Authority via a Creative Commons license.