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New York City’s subway system sees a lot of foot traffic, with more than 4.3 million riders hurrying through its turnstiles daily.  But next time you find yourself taking a train, take a minute to look for some of the system’s most unforgettable art, commissioned by MTA Arts & Design and placed in various stations throughout the four boroughs. Here are some of our favorite subway art installations worth swiping your Metro card for.

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Photo Credit ©AMNH/D. Finnin

81st Street/American Museum of Natural History (B and C lines)
The subway stop for this popular museum gives a sneak preview of what you’ll see when you get there. Though this piece from 2000 is titled “For Want of a Nail,” the title of an old proverb, this artistic medley showcases living and extinct land and marine animals (the extinct are rendered in gray). Made from glass and ceramics mosaics, handmade ceramic relief tiles, and hand-cast glass, bronze and cut granite floor tiles, the colorful work highlights the museum’s ten main disciplines.

14th Street/Eight Avenue (L, A, C, and E lines)
These bronze figures you’ll spot while Brooklyn bound or heading up or downtown, offer an artistic take on city living. Designed by artist Tom Otterness, these circa 2001 small-scale sculptures—collectively called “Life Underground”—are described as evoking the lure of New York City. You’ll find them in unexpected spots such as beneath stairs and pillars, and positioned on benches and railings. What to look for: an alligator rising out of a sewer to devour a man; a pair of colossal feet; and workers carrying oversized versions of tools used to build the subways.

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59th Street-Columbus Circle (1, A, B, C, and D lines)
This vibrant porcelain tile-wall installation measures 53 feet wide and 11 feet high, and faces a double-wide stairway and landing, which leads from the mezzanine to the trains’ platforms. Named “Whirls and twirls (MTA),” this artwork designed by the late Sol LeWitt contains 250 tiles in six colors, with each tile cut to a specific dimension to produce the artist’s intended scale and color sequences.

Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue/74th Street-Broadway (7, E, F, M and R lines)
Look up to see this piece, titled Passage, in the glass windows of the Victor Moore Arcade and on the 7 platform windscreen. The 2004 work by Tom Patti consists of trapezoidal-shaped windows fitted into steel so that they can be opened to allow air into the platform. The installation is said to draw upon the markets, flowers and colors found on the area’s nearby streets. With its entire components being handmade in Patti’s studio, this laminated, impact-resistant security glass projects its lovely shade of purple due to being layered with a plasma composite material that breaks up light into the colors of the spectrum.

Lexington Avenue-53rd Street (E, M and 6 lines)
Called Passing Through, this brightly patterned mural installed on the mezzanine-level in 2004 involves geometric elements of varying shapes and sizes floating freely. One of the last public works by the late abstract painter Al Held, this glass mosaic piece was installed at the time of his death. According to a description about the mural, Held’s Midtown station masterpiece was inspired by his curiosity about how everything is structured and by theories about the universe and its mysteries. Plus, the subject matter also incorporates a visual symbol of NYC: its architecture. His subway mural’s imagery also is described as evoking the city’s bustling energy while noting the forms and styles of Midtown’s overhead skyscrapers.


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Michele Herrmann

Michele Herrmann

Michele writes about women's travel, destinations, culinary, and cultural topics for various outlets and has ventured as far as Fiji, to date. She also muses her tales on She Is Going Places.

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