ON NEW YEAR’S DAY, New York City opened its first new subway line in over half a century — well, three new stops, anyway. The far Upper East Side, once a pain to get to, is newly accessible via these three stops along Second Avenue at 72nd Street, 86th Street and 96th Street (it’s the yellow”Q” line on the map below).
It’s visible proof of how transportation can bring new life to a neighborhood that for the better part of a decade was, to my mind, a place to avoid — inconvenient, boring and ugly.
But absent the scaffolding and the sawhorses and the orange cones and the big holes in the ground, Second Avenue looks fresh and optimistic, chock-a-block with old and new bars and restaurants to serve the densely populated high-rises that line the avenue.
Three times recently, I found myself on the Second Avenue subway. The trip from mid-Brooklyn to the UES now takes just under 30 minutes.
I met a friend for brunch at Jacques Brasserie on East 85th, an old favorite, and discovered a cozy hole-in-the-wall pub that I happened to stumble upon coming out of a doctor’s office — Jones Wood Foundry on East 76th.
The architecture of the stations, while impressively scaled, is unexciting, but the art in the three stations makes up for it. The MTA calls it “the most expansive permanent public art installation in New York City history.”
At 72d Street, full-body portraits of colorful, eccentric New Yorkers, rendered in mosaic tile by Brazilian born artist Vik Muniz, are imbedded in the white wall tile along the concourse, like so many fellow passengers.
At 86th, there are overscaled photo-based portraits in mosaic or ceramic tile, some of famous musicians and artists (Lou Reed, Kara Walker, Philip Glass). They’re the work of Chuck Close (who also included a couple of self-portraits), and they are mesmerizing, both from up close and far away.
Abstract murals of porcelain tile by Sarah Sze wrap the interior of the 96th Street station, into which we’ll descend below (yes, I visited all three stations just to see them).
I’m glad I didn’t have to live through the protracted construction, but now that it’s done, I have to say: well done, MTA.