The Sol LeWitt installation at 59th St./Columbus Circle. (Photo courtesy of Metropolitan Transportation Authority/Rob Wilson. Click to enlarge.)
Taking a walk through the Columbus Circle station right now is one of the least pleasant experiences in the subway. Undergoing a complete rehab that is behind schedule, the station is hot and dusty. Platforms are cut off; walls are exposed; staircases are closed.
Eventually, the station will be completely transformed, but for now, it is in a perpetual state of construction. On Wednesday, a glimpse of color appeared amidst the construction as the Sol LeWitt Arts for Transit installation opened on a double-wide wall on a mezzanine in between the A/B/C/D and 1 train platforms.
The piece, shown above and again at the bottom of the post, was commissioned in 2004, and LeWitt, who passed away two years ago, selected the site himself. The work is 53 feet wide by 11 feet tall and is made of 250 porcelain tiles of six varying colors. It is called “Whirls and twirls (MTA)” and is one of the more vibrantly-colored entries in the Arts for Transit program.
“LeWitt’s genius comes through in this artwork, which is a major work of precision with its curves and bands in vibrant color that completely fills the space,” MTA Chairman H. Dale Hemmerdinger said. “It will become a landmark and is a great tribute to one of our major artists.”
Sadly, LeWitt is no longer with us to see the piece’s grand unveiling. He died in April 2007, but the artist is enjoying much posthumous success. As his obituary says, LeWitt was known for “deceptively simple geometric sculptures and drawings and ecstatically colored and jazzy wall paintings.” An exhibit of his works, recently named one of the top art shows in the nation, is on display for 25 years at Mass MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts, and LeWitt was very much looking forward to his collaboration with the MTA.
“When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art,” he said in an Arts for Transit interview a year before his death.
After LeWitt’s death, Sandra Bloodworth, director of Arts for Transit and Facilities Design, worked closely with the artist’s family to ensure that his vision would be realized. “This project,” she said, “was filled with challenges, as we prepared several samples of tile and glazes to meet with Mr. LeWitt’s approval and found a facility that could produce large tiles mandated by the design. Working with Arts for Transit, his family and colleagues helped bring the project to completion. It is a very special and unique creation because it is a permanent public installation of a wall drawing, executed in porcelain tile. Usually the wall drawings are executed in paint or pencil based on exacting instructions by the artist.”
While some may criticize Arts for Transit as a superfluous use of money in tight economic times, LeWitt’s piece brings some color and levity to our normally serious commutes. It lightens up a once-dull space and should be recognized and embraced as a leading example of underground art.
Click through for another view.