Looking to catch my train at the Times Square/42nd Street subway station, I passed a long glass corridor. The monotony of the white glass was broken by colourful ceramic tiles set into the wall. I looked at some closely. Every day about half a million people pass through this subway station. If one percent of them look at a panel, it means that the ceramic works by Toby Buonagurio are examined daily by about 500 people. That’s a lot of inspection.
I examined the lovely work behind the lady in pink. If it had a title, it would be Boy with a hot dog. I examined the wonderful colours of the hot dog: perfectly done. A scribble in the pool of mustard says that the work was done in the year 2000. I googled the name of the artist. She has 35 of these panels in the station, in a group called 35 Times. Her web site allows you to buy good quality signed prints of these works. How many prints does she sell? You do the math.
The ceramic tablets are beautiful. I examined three more of the tablets. I think I would call them Looking at the NY skyline, New Year’s Eve party, and Two women with ice cream. Bright and cheerful pieces, each of them.
Buonagurio teaches ceramics at an university. The world’s most famous search engine vomited up various links for her, including a page at her university where I found reviews of her course by students. The most illuminating was this: “Toby was my ceramics teacher about 30 years ago and I’ve never forgotten her. She’s the best. Btw, I’ve been an artist and teacher all these years – though I’ve changed media, Toby teaches how to do things right, no easy way out.”
My youngest niece asked me, "Which is the longest road in New York?" Having crossed paths with it from Bowling Green to Columbus Circle, I knew the answer. It starts from the little park where, the story goes, the island of Manhattan was purchased from native Americans by the Dutch. I don’t know whether the story is true, but the Avenue starts from Bowling Green, which you can see behind the bull mobbed by tourists here.
A little further north, the iconic Flatiron Building stands at a corner on this road. Built in 1902, it was then one of the tallest buildings in the city, and the only 22 story building north of 14th Street. Interestingly, this steel-framed, limestone and terra-cotta clad building was an incursion of the Chicago style into New York. As I stood and admired the building, I was joined by a succession of people who had come there specially to photograph one of the icons of New York City.
Perhaps one of the most well-known landmarks on the longest road in New York is Times Square. I’ve known locals who give it a wide berth, but every visitor needs to walk through this place. Why not? Where else would you have photo-ops with Spiderman, or both Batman and the Joker, or Captain America? This square has all the oddities that you would love New York for.
About the furthest uptown that I crossed this road was on 57th street. You can see the iconic Hearst Tower reflected in the mirrorshades of the building just across the crossing. Randolph Hearst spent 2 million 1928 dollars to build the bottom 6 stories. The weirdly shaped tower atop it was completed in 2006, and was the first green building in New York. I walked up to it specifically to see the water sculpture in the lobby which humidifies the building.
Broadway, the longest street in New York, continues well beyond this. By not following it to Lincoln Center I missed out on the dancing Hippo sculpture that friends recommended. It continues past that into parts of New York I know little about.
I could have guessed: the entrance to this station was as lit up as the doors to one of the shows on Broadway around it. I’d dodged photo ops with Batman and Captain America before ducking into this shelter. I should have known that this cave would not be just another little hole in the wall. It was a full scale museum. I’d browsed a full catalogue of art works in the subway, but had forgotten to count how many there were in the subway station at Times Square and 42nd Street. Since I did not have a floor plan, I would miss several, but the ones I saw were marvellous.
I came face to face with a wonderful mural by Roy Lichtenstein as soon as I entered. It shows an Art Deco future from a Buck Rogers comic book, so different from the reality of that future around it. Lichtenstein made the Times Square Mural on a commission from the MTA, so the juxtaposition is deliberate. Very often that future is talked of as an utopia never found. But this was the weekend of Charlottesburg, and I could not help thinking how much more vibrant the New York above ground is than the future of these musty old imaginations.
Apart from Roy Lichtenstein, one person who called out that Buck Rogers future is the science fiction writer William Gibson in a great story called The Gernsback Continuum. I had it in mind as I walked along the 16 meter long mural, admiring the bright colours and the last gathering of all of Lichtenstein’s life’s themes. The mural was installed in 2002, a couple of years after my few months in New York. This was the first time I’d seen it. Lichtenstein died in 1997, and this work from 1994 was one of his last major pieces.