New Culture Hot Spot in New York: The 2nd Avenue Subway


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The new subway stops at 72nd, 86th and 96th Streets have drawn local tourists.

Credit
Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

There are several contenders for coolest neighborhood in New York, but the Upper East Side is usually not one of them.

For the past two weeks, though, the Yorkville area has been a destination for culture seekers.

When the Second Avenue subway opened for service on New Year’s Day, it drew crowds of onlookers, some dressed in Q train T-shirts. Last weekend, the stations at 72nd, 86th and 96th Streets were still bringing in waves of subway tourists eager to check out the architecture of almost a century’s planning, as well as the public art, commissioned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Arts & Design program, that lines its subterranean walls.

“I’m one of those old people who didn’t think they’d ever see this,” Curtis Gibbs, 52, said on Saturday afternoon, describing himself as a “photographer by weekend, architect by week.” He was on the second stop of his subway tour, at 86th Street, with a DSLR camera and tripod.

He was not the only person there to take pictures.

Yair Strano, 35, stood before a photorealistic mosaic of Lou Reed by the artist Chuck Close. The subway stop includes portraits by the artist of various creative people who are based in New York, including Philip Glass, Cindy Sherman, Kara Walker and the artist himself.

“He’s amazing,” Mr. Strano said after taking a video of the Reed portrait, zooming in on its details. A former Upper East Sider who recently moved to Astoria, Queens, he was mindful of how the subway would change the neighborhood. “I think the only danger is that the rents will go up,” he said before catching the Q train downtown.

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A mosaic from Vik Muniz’s series “Perfect Strangers.”

Credit
Yana Paskova/Getty Images

Rakeesha Wrigley, a 31-year-old journalist, typically takes the Lexington Avenue line to her home in East Harlem but rode the Q train instead, just so she could photograph the art at 86th Street. On her Instagram, she likes to post series of three or six images around a theme. That afternoon, she shot a mix of time lapse, portrait and detail photos, and was still deciding which to share with her followers.

“I don’t post often, so I like it to be meaningful,” she said.

As of Wednesday, more than 27,000 public Instagram posts included the hashtag #qtrain.

Rosemary Reyes and her girlfriend, Amina Hassen, were traveling from Bushwick, Brooklyn, to the Met Breuer on Saturday afternoon to see the Kerry James Marshall retrospective. When they reached Canal Street, they switched to the Q so they could see the new 72nd Street station.

“I’ve only come up here for the museums,” said Ms. Reyes, a 29-year-old freelance journalist and community organizer.

Ms. Hassen, 28, studied at Hunter College but had otherwise spent little time in the area.

The women studied a mosaic of two men holding hands.

“We’re gay, so we were drawn to this portrait of queer people,” Ms. Reyes said. “They’re bears,” she added, referring to their rugged appearance. But were they real?

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Thor Stockman, left, and Patrick Kellogg, a couple portrayed by Mr. Muniz.


Credit
Metropolitan Transportation Authority, via Associated Press

Bernie Cohen, a lifelong New Yorker who conducts walking tours of the city, explained that all of the mosaics at the 72nd Street station were based on photographs by the Brazilian artist Vik Muniz, and that they portray New Yorkers in everyday situations: commuting to work in sneakers, policing the city’s streets, playing music in public spaces, wearing character costumes.

“The gay couple, that’s two men from Brooklyn,” he said. The image, he added, was intended to emphasize the normalcy of same-sex partnerships in New York.

Surveying the series of portraits, Mr. Cohen, 64, said, “They’re all waiting for the train.”

He was at the station on Saturday preparing a tour that he plans to start later this month.

“Putting a walking tour together is like putting a Broadway show together,” Mr. Cohen said. “You hope people will like it, but you never know.”

The new subway line seems to have made New Yorkers more optimistic about their aging infrastructure. At 96th Street, a passenger exiting the Q train was overheard telling the conductor that he was waiting for service up to 125th Street.

The reply? “You’re going to be waiting a long time for that one.”

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