How New York City’s Subway Stations Have Transformed Into an Underground Art Gallery

NYC Subway Art by William Wegman

Art by William Wegman (Photo: Patrick J. Cashin)
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With a daily ridership of nearly 4 million people, New York City's subway system sees a lot of traffic. That's part of why the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has made an effort to transform the city's subway stations into public art galleries. Over the past four decades, the MTA has commissioned more than 400 permanent artworks to adorn the stations. A celebration of these ground-breaking projects, Contemporary Art Underground: New York MTA Arts & Design highlights more than 100 artworks completed between 2015 and 2023 that embody the spirit, vibrancy, and diversity of New York.

Broken down into 10 chapters that bring readers across the city's boroughs, the book is a fascinating look at the artwork that brightens up riders' daily commute. Several chapters are dedicated to major stations—the World Trade Center, Hudson Yards, Times Square, and Grand Central Madison—and focus on how the art engages with and informs its surroundings.

Three chapters focus on the materials that inform these installations—mosaic, glass, and metal—and give an unprecedented look at the details and fabrication of each piece. Through vivid descriptions, intricate close-up photographs, and behind-the-scenes studio images, the book shares the stories behind these permanent works, from artist selection through the translation of an artwork into a large-scale, site-specific installation.

Authored by Sandra Bloodworth, who has directed MTA Arts & Design for over 30 years, and Cheryl Hageman, deputy director, the book is a wonderful journey into the possibilities of public art. With work by artists like William Wegman, Kiki Smith, Nancy Blum, and Rico Gatson, contemporary art lovers will enjoy this tour through New York's underground subway art.

Contemporary Art Underground: New York MTA Arts & Design, published by Monacelli, comes out in April 2024 and is now available for pre-sale.

A new book celebrates the more than 100 artworks commissioned by the MTA for the NYC subway system since 2015.

NYC Subway Art by Nancy Blum

Art by Nancy Blum (Photo: Cathy Carver)

Subway Art by Katherine Bradford

Art by Katherine Bradford (Photo: Jason Mandella)

NYC Subway Art by Rico Gatson

Art by Rico Gatson (Photo: Seong Kwon)

NYC Subway Art by Alex Katz

Art by Alex Katz (Photo: Etienne Frossard)

Subway Art by Marcel Dzama

Art by Marcel Dzama (Photo: Kris Graves)

Through mosaics, glasswork, and metal sculpture, these contemporary artists transformed New York's subway into an art gallery.

NYC Subway Art by Jim Hodges

Art by Jim Hodges (Photo: Felipe Fontecilla)

NYC Subway Art by Kiki Smith

Art by Kiki Smith (Photo: Anthony Verde)

NYC Subway Art by Jeffrey Gibson

Art by Jeffrey Gibson (Photo: Etienne Frossard)

Subway art by Damien Davis

Art by Damien Davis (Photo: Etienne Frossard)

Contemporary Art Underground: New York MTA Arts & Design, published by Monacelli, is now available for pre-sale.

Contemporary Art Underground New York MTA Arts & Design Cover

My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Monacelli – Phaidon.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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