Grand Central Madison Opens Today, Featuring New Art From Yayoi Kusama And Kiki Smith

Grand Central Madison, a new terminal for LIRR service to the East Side of Manhattan, opened today.

It’s great news for commuters but also for art lovers, with new works by Yayoi Kusama and Kiki Smith on display — great additions to the sprawling subterranean art museum that is the New York City subway.

In a recent interview, Sandra Bloodworth, Director of MTA Arts & Design, discussed the “world-class” new work and the widely successful, long-running program.

Sandra, how would you sum up the importance and uniqueness of the MTA Arts & Design program?

It is impossible to measure the value of the impact of the art in the New York subway on those who experience it. It is affectionately referred to as an underground art museum — the people’s museum — those who might never step foot in a typical art museum experience daily artwork that is on par with the works you see in MoMA, the Whitney, or the Met. How extraordinary is that? New Yorkers and tourists have grown accustomed to experiencing outstanding artworks in the New York subway and rail stations – that is the sign of success– that New Yorkers expect world class art in their transit system and get it!

It is an extraordinary, one-of-a-kind place.

The Grand Central Madison terminal features several new permanent artworks. You’ve said it was a highly competitive process. What were you and the rest of the committee looking for?

Our goal in selecting art for Grand Central Madison was to commission work that would stop you in your tracks! The new terminal is over 700,000 square feet, a monumental space. It was important that the artworks be monumental, yet thoughtful and establishing a presence in what is a new portal into the heart of Manhattan.

We have always known that art has power. Many that might have not been as aware became very aware during the isolation of the pandemic — that art connects us and engages us and at Grand Central Madison it brings excitement and energy to this new public space.

What are you most excited about commuters discovering?

Both Yayoi Kusama and Kiki Smith speak to this site which was a very important factor in the selection process. Kusama’s imagery flows from her “My Eternal Soul” series — works that are personal yet playful. The work draws you in and you are caught in the magic, feeling very present and escaping for a while from the hustle and bustle of the City above.

Kiki Smith’s response to the site was direct. “River Light” is inspired by the East River and the light that falls on it, yet at the same time the imagery also evokes the bursts of lights inspired by the constellations and stars in the sky-ceiling above the main concourse of Grand Central Terminal.

Throughout Grand Central Madison, you see the architectural references to the Terminal above, the forms, the curved archways. This architecture was envisioned two decades ago by Peter Hopkinson, who was chief architect for the project. From the beginning, he was concerned about the inclusion of art, and we immediately identified the four arched alcoves in the lower-level mezzanine as a key location for art and, with Smith’s artwork translated in mosaic, it proves to be an ideal transition from city to suburbia and vice versa.

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