On his second stay in New York, Jose Clemente Orozco (1883 – 1959) made many works reflecting the city’s urban expansion and social dimension. The Subway (1928) presents several commuters on New York’s emblematic public transportation system, which first opened in 1904. The shadowy, stone-faced passengers impart a sense of melancholy to the scene, contrasting with the shiny train poles. A highly regarded artist in Mexico, Orozco struggled to find recognition in New York despite showing at several local galleries and completing a five-panel mural cycle at the New School in 1931.
For The Subway (1950), George Tooker used a claustrophobic, labyrinthine subway station to portray the alienation and the isolation of contemporary urban life. These urban dwellers — all of whom seem to have the same face — seem frozen, trapped by the architecture of the subway station. Tooker rendered this distinctly modern subject in egg tempera, a medium associated almost exclusively with the Renaissance. The technique creates a smooth, matte surface and is ideal for making sharp, clear lines, which together lend the anxious scene an eerie placidity. The artist said that he attempted to paint reality in a way that would impress it “on the mind so hard that it returns as a dream.” I love this painting.
Photographed in the Whitney Museum of American Art, now in its new home at 99 Gansevoort Street, New York, NY 10014, in the Meatpacking District, adjacent to the Highline.