After six months of upgrades, the 72nd Street B/C subway station reopened on Thursday with that new station smell (okay, fresh paint and construction dust) and enchanting murals from artist and activist Yoko Ono. "I can't believe it's finally open," one commuter said this morning, taking in the gleaming tiles and new fixtures.
The murals were commissioned from Ono by the MTA Arts & Design after a public call for artists. The MTA notes that the "mezzanine and platform areas" were both areas "where wall tiles were in need of replacement." The site-specific work is called "SKY."
"SKY" comprises six separate mosaics spanning both station platforms and mezzanine. The mosaics altogether measure 973 square feet and show a blue, cloud-filled sky embedded with written messages of hope. As riders move through the subterranean subway station, the messages of hope appear in the clouds as the perspective shifts in each mosaic. The transformation of photographs into mosaic sky paintings with subtle gradations in color and tone has created a visually striking station environment. Two mosaics are above the mezzanine stairs leading to the southbound platform where two more pieces are featured, and one mosaic each is installed on the northbound platform and in the main turnstile area on the mezzanine level.
In a statement, MTA Art & Design Director Sandra Bloodworth said, "Art has the ability to both elevate us and ground us, which is what Yoko Ono’s mosaics bring to this location that has meaning to many riders as well as music fans around the world. Her mosaics remind us that a cloudy sky may be ephemeral but there is always hope."
"I'm thrilled that my new work, "SKY," will be opening at the 72 St subway station just steps from my home and Strawberry Fields, which I created in memory of my late husband," said Yoko Ono. "It will bring the sky underground, so it's always with us. I hope this will bring peace and joy to my fellow New Yorkers for many years to come."
The murals' message are "Imagine peace," "Imagine love," and "Dream"; two more mosaics on the downtown level will be installed by the end of the month. The station is also literally under Ono's home at the Dakota, and is highly trafficked by tourists who visit the Dakota to make a pilgrimage to her and John Lennon's home and Strawberry Fields.
The renovations are part of a previously announced station renewal initiative to improve 30 stations to make them "cleaner, brighter... easier to navigate, with better and more intuitive wayfinding, as well as a modernized look and feel." To achieve that, stations all over the city have been shut down for months. Some transit advocates have criticized the renewal program because it ignores adding accessibility, like elevators, to stations and does nothing to improve train service.
For B and C riders, the newly reopened station was a revelation. I use this station, and I noticed a change as soon as I stepped down one step—the stairs are clean and level, and tile walls were clean and not dingy—at 72nd Street and Central Park West. Then when I stepped to the mezzanine where the station agent booth is located and was struck by how bright and open it felt. The clean floor also made the space seem bigger.
There's legitimate criticism about whether it makes sense for spend so much money on incredible subway stations with world class art when so much of the NYC Transit system needs basic improvements. Nevertheless, NYC Transit president Andy Byford recently announced a reorganization and expansion of subway station managers to make sure the stations are well-maintained.
I asked the station agent if she liked the changes. She smiled and said, "I love it... but the more important question is: Do you love it?"