Each week, Artful spotlights an art experience or destination that speaks to us right now.
Waiting for a train in the cramped subterranean corridors of Penn Station has never exactly been an aesthetic experience. But since the opening last week of the new Moynihan Train Hall in the old James A. Farley Post Office across Eighth Avenue from the main station, commuters are now finding space to move and breathe under a soaring glass ceiling. And with the debut of three new commissions in the building by internationally recognized artists, courtesy of Empire State Development and the Public Art Fund, travelers may even want to arrive early just for some art appreciation.
The artists, Stan Douglas, Elmgreen & Dragset, and Kehinde Wiley, were asked to think about the city's past, present, and future. Douglas's nine photographic panels in the hall's ticketed waiting room restage scenes from the station's history, including an improvisational vaudeville show from 1914 organized by the performer Bert Williams to entertain travelers stranded by a snowstorm. The duo Elmgreen & Dragset's upside-down model city, suspended from the ceiling of the building's mid-block entrance hall on 31st Street, nods to the "supertall" skyscrapers of current New York architecture along with landmarks from Chicago, Hong Kong, and elsewhere. And over in the 33rd Street entrance hall, Wiley's glass ceiling triptych shows Black figures breakdancing in poses that also evoke the ascending figures in Giovanni Battista Tiepolo's 18th-century Venetian frescoes—which is to say, it propels your gaze upward, a sensation Penn Station regulars may need to get used to.