On Uncommissioned Masterpieces in Subterranean Spaces


To those who complain about our subway station, we will not dispute your claims regarding the legions of rats who live on the upper platform, the large underground cavern now filled with trash that has long been closed off to riders; nor will we deny that the smell of piss is pervasive, and that at least a few times every week shit is smeared — “how did this happen?” we wonder every time we encounter it — on the handrail leading down the cement steps from the corner of 161st and Amsterdam; nor that the walls of the station — at least upstairs — are covered with nothing — no maps, no advertisements, no graffiti — but waxy, industrial paint in the bleakest shades of mustard and black. True enough, all of this and more could be duly confirmed and documented at this very second, just as we have done here.

And yet, even though we are inclined to applaud your efforts to bring these despicable conditions to the authorities, who most certainly can be expected to take the appropriate measures once the mean income of the neighborhood has crossed a certain line of destitution (and yes, we too have noted the recent appearance of movie/television posters along the actual platforms), we do so with a measure of trepidation, for fear of losing the panels now in place, the one thing that has inspired us over the course of these many years spent waiting for the local C-train to irregularly arrive. Consider, if you will, one of the old panels on the subway platform wall, and observe the finely wrought precision with which each strip of peeling paint has by the hands of time been distressed in the subtlest shades of gold and silver, all displayed in a collage with the glue and paper of generations long deceased. And now — for the sake of comparison — consider some of the newly hung posters adjacent to our masterpiece: how pathetic and ridiculous they look! How unenduring, superficial and transient! There we spot an ad for a new television show by ___ (shown swinging in a tire swing in what is apparently the height of comedy) or another by ____ (with blood on his freakishly adolescent face) or some unimaginably tedious sports program.

Nor as we consider the loss of our masterpieces are we comforted by the prospect of any real “art” being installed in their place, or even nearby; all we have to do is think of the brass turtlemen perched all over the Chelsea station, and how depressed we used to get seeing them on our way home from work each night, to know that we have completely lost our faith in the ability of any transit official to make such commissions. We know there will be many who fail to see the beauty of these forgotten panels, and will respond to our assessment with scorn and disbelief. Yet before you judge, we again invite to you to behold the works in person. Here you have the abstract expression of the city itself, resplendent in decay and neglect, and to observe it for even these few seconds fills us with the transcendent bliss of true insignificance.

Subway Masterpiece

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