New Art City
People like a Yayoi Kusama because it looks like a Yayoi Kusama, i.e., polka dots.
A phrase like “nickel plating the turd” should be used extremely judiciously, and this writer regrets wasting it—in a gripe about subway art in NYRA #33—prior to the opening of Grand Central Madison. Regret is what New Yorkers may be feeling about GCT Madison, which raises questions like “why?” and “what is $11 billion?”
The “why” is answered by reduced congestion in train traffic at and around Penn Station and the shaving off of minutes from the commute times of some Long Island Rail Road passengers. That may (or may not) be true, but I’m here to comment on the new terminal’s art, which finds superstars Kiki Smith and Yayoi Kusama doing… something. Smith’s best mosaic looks like a shittier rendition of Manet’s nautical scenes. Kusama has actually surpassed herself in a precession of ambivalent frowny face amoebas, but unfortunately in doing so has failed the brief. People like a Yayoi Kusama because it looks like a Yayoi Kusama: polka dots.
Celebrity artists can’t fill the gap separating the “why” from “$11 billion.” Spectacles plucked from above—Smith’s contributions are recomposites of prior work—fail to enliven the sad subterranean terminal. Glendalys Medina’s new murals in the Grand Street L station, created specifically for the site and riffing on the local neighborhood, are promising alternatives. Arcs, bars, and circles are arranged in clusters that resemble reconfigurable Colorforms. Pleasingly straightforward when viewed from within a passing train, they reveal more complexity on approach. The effect is ornamental, but not shallow, sophisticated but not pretentious. Most importantly, the shapes echo the shallow vaults and light monitors and staircases of the station the murals were made for. They belong.