Famous Artists Tapped for Second Avenue Subway Station Installations

By Amy Zimmer on May 11, 2012 6:08pm 

MANHATTAN — After the digging and blasting, the dust and noise, the Second Avenue Subway will have shiny new stations with installations from art superstars.

Famed painter Chuck Close has been commissioned to install a roughly $1 million giant work of mosaics, a series of portraits representative of the city’s straphangers, at the East 86th Street subway station, according to officials from the MTA’s Arts for Transit.

“We’re so excited about Chuck,” Sandra Bloodworth, director of Arts for Transit said. “It’s so perfect for the Second Avenue subway because he’s such a New Yorker, and his work, being about people, is perfect for New York.”

Though he was tapped two years ago for the project, it’s taken some time for the funding and fabrication details to be in place, officials explained Friday.

Each of the mosaics will be 10 feet high and take up more than 1,000 square feet of the station’s wall space at different entrances at East 86th and 83rd streets and elsewhere in the station.

“The idea is to reflect the riding population: old people, young people, people of color, Asians. I’m going to do as many as 12 separate mosaics, mainly from pictures of artists I’ve taken over the years,” Close told the New York Times on Friday.  “The richness of the city is all the various cultures coming together, and the richness of my art will be to simultaneously let people in on how many ways there are to build an image.”

Arts for Transit has a budget of roughly $5 million for works at four Second Avenue Subway stations, Bloodworth said.

Sculptor Sarah Sze, who recently had a show at Asia Society, will be installing an intricate work of drawings on ceramic tiles spanning nearly two blocks long at East 96th Street. Artist Jean Shin is creating a site-specific work for the station at East 63rd Street. Their selection had been announced previously.

One more artist will be selected to create a work for East 72nd Street, according to the MTA’s Arts for Transit, which gets 1 percent of funding for construction projects devoted to public art.

Arts for Transit’s Lester Burg called the installations a “phenomenal gift” to the city, saying, “It’s very exciting in the public art world to get artists of this stature. It’s like you’ll be living in a museum.”

(Because of the public nature of the works, the materials they use must require little upkeep, officials said.)

Burg also noted how the artists will be using state-the-art techniques to create their works.  Sze, he said, uses a “new visual language” with her 2-dimensional images digitally printed onto tile that play with perspective and light.  Close is using a “traditional language” of portraits, but is “making it new,” Burg said.

Shin will be using archival photos from the New-York Historical Society and Transit Museum, in a work playing with the 1942 dismantling of the Second Avenue elevated line and the sky that opened up when the hulking structure was removed.

“We are really trying to envision these in a look to the future,” Bloodworth said. “Some people who will be riding this subway aren’t even born yet.”

The $4.45 billion first phase of the project, which will extend the Q line from East 63rd up to East 96th street, is expected to be completed by December 2016.

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