Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Rosie the Rider (on the MTA)

The MTA has a long-running art campaign that shows up in the subway, and it might be a stretch to read too much into it (after all, how much transit-inspired art is available to them?), but I keep seeing these posters (more of the one on the right lately) and I can't help thinking they're a sign of the times.

The one on the left, "Gathering the Dawn" by William Low, has the following text below: "The 7 train rounds the hairpin corner into the Queensboro Plaza as morning sunshine graces the majestic East River skyline. William Low, who spent many years commuting on the 7 train, captures a bright moment at his favorite station."

On the right is "Endurance" by Bascove, which is captioned: "The Triborough Bridge links Queens, the Bronx, and Manhattan. Bascove's painting uses vibrant colors in sinuous curves to capture the dynamic power in the bridge's massive structure."

Both captions celebrate the built environment in terms that both celebrate the human achievement of the infrastructure and raise it to the level of the god-given natural world. The "majestic skyline" is "graced" by the sunrise, while the "sinuous curves" of the painting capture "dynamic power" and "massive structure."

The paintings themselves are the focus of this very New Deal-esque celebration of man the builder. Low's drifts from the bustle of people going to work up along the ironwork of the bridge and to the skyline beyond, as mighty as a mountain range. Bascove's painting is even more stylized (and reminds me of this sort of work), with the bridge as immovable monument against the wild sky.

Now, this might just be the nature of transit art, but it feels straight out of the 1930s. If you look at the recent history of the MTA's displays, there seems to be a trend in this direction. In the age of rollercoaster stock markets and bridge disasters that serve as overlarge metaphors for the crumbling of American superiority, it feels like the MTA is trying to bring some old-fashioned "We Can Do It" attitude to New Yorkers.

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