For various reasons, we humans have a clear inclination to use the walls as a support for statements, appeals or protests. From the first representations on the Paleolithic murals in caves
(Altamira and others), the message on the wall always had a purpose and a meaning.
In ancient times, confronted with the need and the pursuit of food, man sought to capture the spirit of buffaloes and antelopes probably in the hope that immobilizing the hunted animal on the mural would help to achieve their desire. The Egyptians sought to immortalize the Pharaoh by depicting on the walls scenes from his life. The religious mural art seeks to convey the message of the divinity.
History has stunning examples of mural art. Murals of extraordinary aesthetic quality were created by artists in ancient China, Greece, India and the Arab world. Large murals tell the story of the Renaissance in Europe. Magnificent works adorn the walls in large areas of pre-Hispanic and Colonial America. We have the magnificent murals by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel in Rome, and the monumental works of Diego Rivera and David Siqueiros in Mexico.
The murals have become historical documents of individual and collective human endeavours. Sometimes they are very informal, even illegal forms of artistic expression, such as graffiti. In many instances, the works are commissioned, skillfully crafted and carefully cataloged. Among these, one of the finest worldwide collections of both graffiti art and fine approved mural works can be found in the trains and stations of the New York City Subway System.
Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant
published in 1984 the book "Subway Art
" (the 25th Anniversary Edition
was published in 2009). It is a unique photographic record which includes 259 images of graffiti in the NYC Subway trains and stations captured between 1970 and 1980, at a time when this art form was considered a crime, later on becoming part of the history of New York City, and now bearing a certain degree of nostalgia.
Documenting the formal, authorized NYC Subway mural artwork collection, the website NYCitysubway.org
contains records and images with a detailed history of the NYC transportation network and a comprehensive catalog of 252 artworks
that enrich the experience of using the NYC Subway system.
This photo essay is limited. It shows just a few of the mosaic murals that decorate the Subway’s 81st St. Station
on the IND Eighth Avenue/Fulton Street/Rockaway Line
serving the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Central Park, and most relevantly, the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH
). The combined murals are called "For Want of a Nail
" and were designed by the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) Arts for Transit Design Team and the Museum of Natural History.
Because of its association with the Museum, the theme of the murals comprises dozens of mosaic figures
of various sizes including insects “crawling” on the floor, birds, reptiles, and mammals
, a host of existing and endangered land and sea creatures, and fossil organisms that are embedded in the walls at different levels of the station.
Subway riders stepping off the trains at 81st St. Station get the feeling of walking into a vast exhibition of life forms ranging from the primitive amoeba to the fossil of the gigantic Tyrannosaurus rex
. Additionally, there is a connection from the station leading directly into the Museum.