New York is covered with art installations, some hidden and some right in front of your nose. You’ve probably passed them a zillion times without noticing, or perhaps wondered, “What the hell is that?” while on your morning commute. Between hippie-dippy land art, geeky tech installations, and classic little-known Keith Haring works, these sites are just begging for you to stop for a second in your busy day to smell the creativity.
Some people think of the lobby at 505 Fifth Avenue as nothing more than the way they get into their office, but it also doubles as a light installation by James Turrell. The employees of the sky scraper get to feel a little neo-Rothko before putting their noses to the grindstone each day.
Subway Map Floating on a NY Sidewalk
In the 1980s, when Soho was just a wasteland populated by poor artists, the late developer Tony Goldman had a clairvoyance that the area would one day be important. He commissioned Francoise Schein in 1985 to install Subway Map Floating on a NY Sidewalk, on the then-dreary Greene Street. The work is now a symbol of his legacy to art and the City of New York.
That big smoking clock thing in Union Square isn’t a remnant of the tacky Jekyll and Hyde restaurant, but actually the most expensive privately funded art project in New York. At a cost of $3 million, the rock-and-clock counts the hours of the day forward, while subtracting the time remaining in the day — in effect confusing the hell out of anyone who just wants to know what time it is.
Instead of staring at that Manhattan Storage ad during your morning commute, feast your eyes on Bill Brand’s flip-book-style animation called Masstransiscope near the Dekalb stop on the B and Q trains in Brooklyn. Installed in 1980, the paintings appear outside the subway window, morphing from one bright image to the next as the train speeds by into Manhattan.
Carmine Street Swimming Pool Mural
Keith Haring left his mark on New York, but most of his ephemeral pieces have long since disappeared. A little-known giant mural still stands at the Carmine Street Swimming Pool in the West Village. Haring-style dolphins, swimmers, and mer-people in black, blue, and yellow swim the length of the public pool.
The weird fenced-in park at the corner of Houston and Laguardia Place isn’t a park at all, but instead a remnant of the Land Art movement. The trees and shrubs of Time Landscape, created by Alan Sonfist in the 1960s, are meant to be a cross section of Manhattan greenery from the 16th century.
The Olympic Restaurant on Delancey is your typical divey diner, and also home to a really special toilet. An exact replica of the executive toilet at JPMorgan Chase, Power Toilet is art collective SUPERFLEX’s commentary on how our financial system is in the pooper.
The 560 LED screens in the lobby of The New York Times building are constantly abuzz with chatter — endlessly circulating all of the headlines that the paper has ever produced since 1851. Along with the click-clack sound of vintage typewriters, the installation by Ben Rubin and Mark Hansen brings it way back to the days of the Civil War and Prohibition, along with a few mentions of Justin Bieber.
If Grand Central is the classy and elegant sister and Penn Station is the commercial mall rat, then Port Authority is the trashy black sheep of the family. But amidst the huddled masses heading to Atlantic City is some pretty cool art — including The Commuters by George Segal. The three life-size white sculptures that walk through a door bear little resemblance to the panhandlers that populate the station.
Max Neuhaus’ Times Square
Most New Yorkers avoid Times Square at all costs, but smack in the middle of the tourist craziness is one of the coolest sound installations in the city. Installed beneath the subway grates in the middle of Broadway in 1977, Max Neuhaus’ aptly named Times Square gives off a low harmonic sound that consistently freaks out the tourists standing above it.