The future of Penn Station, Manhattan’s infamously dispiriting train hub beneath the Madison Square Garden arena, remains uncertain as politicians, real estate developers and community groups debate the merits of competing modernisation schemes. In the meantime, national rail company Amtrak is enlivening its spaces in the subterranean complex with new public art commissions and expanding its public art programme to other stations.
Installations by New Jersey-based artists Shoshanna Weinberger and David Rios Ferreira, organised by curator Debra Simon under the Art at Amtrak initiative, were unveiled in early August and will remain on view until January 2024. Rios Ferreira’s Get Carried Away, You Have the Right (2023) spans four double-height columns, two friezes and a central mural in a large rotunda, melding ancient and futuristic imagery. Each of the columns features a towering, hybrid figure whose elements draw from Indigenous and pre-Hispanic traditions, as well as sources including comic books and imagery the artist found in Amtrak’s archives.
“I was interested in trains, but also in background elements, things like schedules, grids, maps and timetable brochures,” Rios Ferreira says. He adds that his installation is about “how we pull from the archives and history to form our identities”. (The artist also recently completed a mural commission for a New York subway station in Brooklyn.)
On the nearby concourse, Weinberger has created Traveling Through Horizons (2023), an installation that brings the sky underground, with a gradient of colours—from early-morning orange to crepuscular blue—overlaid with geometric patterns that evoke modern architecture or the city grid. On the concourse’s columns, silhouetted figures rendered as patterns of stripes, loom over passing travellers. For Weinberger, the figures reflect her hybrid, Afro Caribbean and American heritage, as well as marginalised identities more broadly.
“The stripes are codifiers for my identity, but also for borders, flags and the current political zeitgeist,” Weinberger says, alluding to the stark polarisation of US political discourse. “They also function as codifiers for civilisation itself, like barcodes.”
The two installations bring a dose of the cosmopolitan—and cosmic—to a space that many consider to be utterly lacking in character. They mark the Art at Amtrak programme’s fourth iteration at Penn Station and come just as the initiative is set to expand to Washington, DC’s Union Station. The first commission there, by DC-based artist and educator Tim Doud, will debut in September and remain on view until winter 2024.