NYC Culture: The 2nd Avenue Subway

2nd avenue subway

As every New Yorker living above ground knows, something very interesting occurred underneath the city earlier this year: the long-promised 2nd Avenue subway line, known colloquially as the IND line, finally opened to the public in January. Although the line only consists of three stations as of the completion of Phase 1, it was sorely needed to relieve pressure on the Lexington Avenue line, which was the only line serving much of Manhattan’s east side.

Although riders have been thrilled to finally ride the subway on 2nd Avenue, they have also been pleasantly surprised by the steps taken to ensure that the three new stations are shining examples of New York’s cultural mosaic. The Upper East Side is not the trendiest neighborhood in New York, but the subway stations on its 72nd, 86th, and 96th streets have brought hipsters and tourists alike to the neighborhood to gawk at some of the beautiful works of art inside that was commissioned by the city. People have also come to admire the innovative architecture and sleek modernism of the new stations.

Several internationally famous New York-based artists have brought their unique styles to the paintings and portraits that now adorn the walls of the stations. Chuck Close, a spectacularly successful photorealist from Washington, created a series of portraits of famous New Yorkers in the 72nd street station, including Lou Reed and Philip Glass. Artist Vik Muniz took a slightly different approach: he strove to capture the days and lives of everyday New York citizens in his works at the 86th and 96th street stations. His paintings include a pair of construction workers-turned-lovers, and a harried businessman running after his open briefcase.

Leave it to New York to see the artistic opportunity that comes with opening up a new subway line. The subway line was conceived and built for purely functional reasons, but the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Arts and Design program saw a chance that it could not pass up.

With any luck, the welcome sight of these works of art will greet busy commuters for years to come. And who knows — Phases 2 and 3 are still to come, somewhere down the road. Which incredible artists will be commissioned to paint the walls underneath 2nd Avenue in 20 years?

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