MTA’s Underground Art Reveals Hidden Treasures
Channel THIRTEEN airs a program on the history of graffiti and fine art in the subway system.
Not everyone who works for the MTA has scathing things to say about graffiti. Last night when “Treasures of NY: Underground Art” premiered on THIRTEEN, they opened up the hour-long special with a look at graf in the ’80s. This one guy on the special, who’s an author and has some involvement in curating art, really did his damndest not fully shitting on graffiti. He might have slightly sharted on it, pointing to graf as an illustration of urban decay in New York City, which, to be fair isn’t fully inaccurate. Meanwhile, you could see in his eyes he was clinching up, still praising the artistic talent that was being born out of this pivotal moment for the Rotten Apple. Then shots from Wild Style followed as secondary imagery—like pictures of DONDI covering an entire train helped take the pressure off homeboy. For the most part, the special was pretty informative showing how far art in subway stations has come since the ’80s. Something like over 200 works of art are installed in the MTA’s system. Mosaic art seemed to be the darling of all the media used though. The process was extensively covered in the work of Jason Middlebrook (at Avenue U), and Faith Ringgold (at 125th St.). If you’ve ever wondered how they install the mosaic tiles, you could learn about the process when it re-airs.
Even the dude Middlebrook showed some respect to graffiti by referring to it as guerrilla art. It wasn’t necessarily his hustle, but he admired aerosol art despite its rep. And speaking of that guerrilla style of art, Bill Brand, who created Masstransitscope (a zoetrope on the B line), was one of the first artists to kick off the special around when they were discussing graffiti. He talked about breaking in the Myrtle Avenue station with a key someone slipped him, and installed a box on an unused platform where the images would be seen when the train passed by. They couldn’t talk about these more high brow forms of fine art without shedding light on the nature of making art on your own terms (legal or illegal). It’s a pretty insightful program for a look at art beneath the surface of the city. Maybe it might make you accept future fare increases too. But we can’t imagine funding for these art projects is coming from our pockets because they’re actually going towards more clocks and timers to tell you when the train is arriving. But until those more practical changes come along, you have something else to look at to keep you occupied.