The great hive of New York City depends on its subway system to meet the transportation needs of its ever-expanding population. People from all walks of life—from stockbrokers to students, homeless to Helen Mirren—rely upon this underground “social equalizer,” which significantly affects the social health of the city. The public art commissioned for subway stations by MTA Arts & Design plays a big role in bettering New Yorkers’ commuter experience by converting the system’s dark concrete tunnels into a sprawling contemporary art museum.

Sandra Bloodworth and William Ayres’s New York’s Underground Art Museum: MTA Arts & Design celebrates the integral role of artists (including Sol LeWitt, Acconci Studio, and Xenobia Bailey, to name a few) in the design of New York’s public transit stations. This expanded edition improves on 2006’s Along the Way: MTA Arts for Transit by introducing several works completed since 2006 as well as current works in progress. In addition, a brief introduction offers a glimpse into the history and process of public art commissions by the MTA.

Half art book, half travel book, New York’s Underground Art Museum offers 300 colorful images alongside short descriptions of the artworks depicted. By flipping through, one is able to learn not only about the artists, intentions, and materials behind these works, but also about New York’s diverse neighborhoods and history. The link between art, location, and community is stressed throughout.

Often, MTA-commissioned artists work in collaboration with architects to combine function with thoughtful, aesthetically charged design. Limited to materials able to withstand hard use, the artists must also negotiate unique compromises between their studio practice and the demands of the space. Barbara Grygutis’s Bronx River View (located on an elevated platform in the Bronx) creates intimate metal niches from which to observe the Bronx River and Concrete Plant Park, while Francesco Simeti’s Bensonhurst Gardens responds to the diversity of Brooklyn’s Bensonhurst neighborhood by depicting plants from China, Italy, Israel, and North America in a surreal, luscious landscape grown from heaps of dirt and garbage. Colorful images of such projects come together within New York’s Underground Art Museum to reveal a polished peek into the MTA’s extensive public art collection, one almost completely uninterrupted by pedestrians and grime. This view is a rare one, yet helpful for the commuters who often find themselves too busy to look.

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