On the first day of 2021, New York City opened the doors to its newest transit hub, the Moynihan Train Hall. The 255,000-square-foot hall is an expansion of 34th Street’s Pennsylvania Station into the city’s former main post office building, the James A. Farley Building. Designed by architecture firm SOM, the $1.6 billion project restores the grandeur of the original Penn Station that was demolished in 1963 to make way for Madison Square Garden.
Aside from its 92-foot-high skylight that floods the hall with natural light, its 700 windows, and its 12-foot-tall clock that harks back to old Penn Station, Moynihan Train Hall boasts permanent art installations by renowned artists Kehinde Wiley, Stan Douglas, and duo Elmgreen & Dragset. The site-specific installations, in their own unique ways, pay homage to the past, present, and future, while honoring the city’s history, diversity, and architectural magnificence.
Wiley, best known for his portrait of former President Barack Obama for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, has a distinguished style of artwork that often merges contemporary Black protagonists in Eurocentric Old Master-style paintings, such as in his 2015 Brooklyn Museum exhibition, “A New Republic.” Wiley employed this style for his Moynihan Train Hall installation, named “Go,” that consists of a three-part, hand-painted stained glass triptych that encompasses the ceiling of the 33rd Street Mid-block Entrance Hall.
“Go” is a celebration of “the vibrancy and virtuosity of bodies in motion at monumental scale” and showcases Black New Yorkers in casualwear with poses inspired from breakdance and modern dance styles. The illuminated stained glass is inspired by classical frescoed ceilings and juxtaposes contemporary Black focal points against poses and depictions traditionally associated with religious artworks, such as Michaelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam.”
“These contemporary avatars of the sublime are awesome in their gravity-defying abilities, yet familiar to any subway rider,” says the press release. With “Go,” Wiley “extends the metaphorical language of light and divinity to reveal the talent, beauty, and power of Black bodies” while also “translating the urban environment into a celestial dreamscape.” Wiley typically selects everyday people, found around the city’s streets to model for his artwork but due to the short turnaround for the proposal, he employed previous subjects from his other artworks for “Go.” Additionally, Wiley, who has a studio in New York, has been spending the bulk of his time at his studio in Dakar, Senegal—designed by Senegalese architect Abib Djenne and accentuated with interiors and artworks from Aissa Dione, Fatiya Djenne, sculptor Ousmane Gueye, and many others.
Per the New York Times, Wiley inspiration for “Go” also came from the space itself, particularly its decorative Beaux-Arts flourishes and metal accents around the windows. Above all, Wiley, who is from Los Angeles and was born to an African American mother and a Nigerian father, hopes Black people can see themselves depicted in his work.
Canadian artist Stan Douglas created “Penn Station’s Half Century,” a series of nine photographic panels in four niches in The Ticketed Waiting Room that give recognition to the original Penn Station by reconstructing little-known but significant moments that happened throughout the transit hub’s more than 50-year history. To bring old New York to life, Douglas photographed live actors in period costumes and stitched together the images on digitally remastered interiors of McKim Mead & White’s original Penn Station based on archival photos and floorplans.
Each of the actors were photographed alone and the images were layered to create large crowd scenes. Some of the depictions include an impromptu vaudeville show led by Black singer and comedian Bet Williams during a massive 1914 snowstorm that left travelers stranded in the train station for hours, affectionate goodbyes between soldiers being deployed during World War II and their loved ones, and a reimagined Penn Station as the soundstage for director Vincent Minnelli’s 1944 love story “The Clock,” starring Judy Garland. These recreations are an extension of Douglas’s imagination of what these real-life events might have looked like in true New York fashion when they happened.
Berlin-based duo Elmgreen & Dragset have been working together since 1995 creating works that explore the connections between art, architecture, and design. For Moynihan, they created “The Hive,” an inverted fantasy cityscape composed of 91 buildings that draws inspiration from buildings found in NYC, London, Paris, Hong Kong, and others.
The installation is suspended from the ceiling of the 31st Street Mid-block Entrance Hall and weighs more than 30,000 pounds.
“The Hive” is a tribute to cities that we live in today while also “reminding us of our cave-dweller origins.” With 72,000 LED lights, the structure embodies the energy of New York City and celebrates both interconnectedness and new perspectives found in travel and cities worldwide.
The art installations projects were overseen by the Public Art Fund, in partnership with the Empire State Development.