Art on the go: How metro stations have turned into art galleries

From Stockholm to Kochi, metro stations across the world have become a hub for splendid artworks. With vibrant colours and intrinsic patterns these artworks will beat the boredom of the commuters
Commuters at the Stadion metro station in Stockholm
Commuters at the Stadion metro station in Stockholm

Your average metro train (or the subway) maybe just another mode of public transport and the metro station, a boring public space, but many of these railway stations are reinventing themselves as art galleries. For example, Moscow’s underground stations are ostentatious to say the least. With cavernous halls, marbled pillar capitals, and baroque lighting and wall fixtures, the Russian subways might seem as if they were ballrooms redecorated to incorporate trains. Stockholm also boasts of around 100 subterranean metro stations that have been part of a long-standing art project since the 1950s. They are filled with portraits, mosaics, sculptures and frescoes that have led to the Swedish capital’s metro railway system being fondly referred to as the ‘world’s longest art gallery’. 

It would be remiss to not mention the vibrant American metro art scene. The capital city of Washington DC has been regularly featured in art magazines and journals for its breathtaking murals, glass canopies and friezes in the Art Nouveau tradition. The oldest city, Boston, unsurprisingly has the oldest subway tunnels as well as the oldest subway station, Park Street. A number of stations on this system feature vintage standalone tiles that can be found adorning the supporting pillars that separate rail tracks. One of the subways even showcases a children’s art project consisting of ceramic tiles that have been placed into niches on the supporting columns. Mostly depicting games and other organic lifeforms, it has become a permanent decoration as well as a remarkable feat for the young artists who worked on the same. 

Our own national capital isn’t far behind either. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, along with the Ministry of Textiles, has an entire art gallery within the Race Course metro station dedicated to ‘craft maps’ — an ingenious initiative that displays around 50 heritage maps from all over India. The specialty that sets apart these so-called maps is that they are displays that stand in as cultural markers for India’s myriad textile weaving and handicraft traditions.

The newest metro rail system on the block is our very own Kochi Metro; a whole bunch of visually soothing metro stations in various shades of cool blues and greens have cropped up all over the city and each one is unique in terms of their modernist and minimal lobby spaces, as well as exterior design. With motifs reminiscent of rain, greenery and coastal landscapes, the stations and railway pillars are quite a sight. Add to this some verdant vertical gardens and sleek landscaping, and Kochi’s latest public transport hubs are definitely attractions to behold!

Independent artists and even public works departments around the world are now decorating their local metro hubs with gusto. While many boast of art antiquities that were part of the original infrastructure, many other artworks have been introduced in a conscious effort to encourage cultural and artistic exploration and also to add a dash of colour to the monotonous commute the common man is subject to on a daily basis.

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