On a scorching afternoon in late August, a dedicated crew of construction workers moved down the corridor connecting Times Square and Grand Central Station, home of the 42nd Street Shuttle. Here, under the streets of New York, over two dozen figures made of glowing glass danced along the subway walls.
On Friday, MTA Arts & Design will officially unveil “Every One”, the first of a three-part installation by artist Nick Cave in the new 42nd Street Connector. The other two parts – “Each One” at the new shuttle entrance and “Equal All” on the central platform wall – will be installed next year.
The $ 1.8 million budget for the project commissioned by MTA Arts & Design is part of the overall project to remodel and reconfigure the 42nd Street Shuttle, which cost more than $ 250 million.
Cave – a sculptor, dancer, and performance artist – is known for his soundsuits, wearable fabric sculptures made from materials like twigs, wire, raffia, and even human hair that often make noise when the wearer moves. (He is also no stranger to staging art in train stations: in 2017 he brought a herd of 30 brightly colored life-size “horses” to the Vanderbilt Hall of Grand Central Terminal.)
As you walk down the new and improved corridor, figures on the wall are shown jumping and whirling in mosaic soundsuits.
“It’s almost like watching a film strip,” Cave said in an interview from his Chicago studio. “If you move from left to right, you will see it moving.”
Since the sculptor was selected from a pool of artists in February 2018, he has wondered and worried: How would a dynamically flowing soundsuit merge into a static mosaic? The answer eased him: seamless.
When Cave came to New York in early August to see Every One, he said, “I felt like I was in the middle of a performance, very close and personal.”
“You just felt this fast, different, visceral texture,” he added, “the feel of the movement and flow of the material that was completely in resonance.”
The soundsuits have always been an amalgam of cultural references, explained Cave: the concepts of shaman and masquerade that obscure the race, gender and class of the wearer and forge a new identity. They contain links to Africa, the Caribbean and Haiti.
“It’s very important that you can make references, you can connect with something,” said Cave. “There is a sneaker in one of the mosaics in the corridor. That brings it to this urban, current time. “
A modern sneaker in salmon, white and maroon stands out from under a pink and black raffia cape, carefully crafted from broken glass. Cave likes the game that is going on here: the form is sometimes figurative, sometimes abstract. “Sometimes it’s identifiable and sometimes it’s not,” he said. “But that’s the nice thing about everything.”
After completing the design for “Every One” in early 2020, the sculptor selected the Munich processor Franz Mayer from a list from MTA Arts & Design. His company Mayer from Munich – one of the world’s oldest architectural offices for glass and mosaic – understood Cave’s vision.
Mayer from Munich has been in the family of today’s managing director Michael Mayer for generations. (Michael is Franz’s great-grandson.) After the German processor has got to know the artist and his perspective, the team can translate the scanned drafts of the work into a mosaic.
The artists, said Mayer, “they are the people with magic”.
The processor prints the designs to scale, lays them out on a table and processes them. Cave’s special mosaic was created in a positive setting method, which means the pieces of glass were glued directly onto a mesh backing – instead of creating the design backwards like a mirror image.
“What is the stone that goes to the next and creates a certain symphony?” Mayer said of the process. His team cut the pieces of glass, placed them on wire mesh, and then slowly and gradually the mosaic grew outward. The finished piece measures approximately 143 feet on one side and 179 feet on the other, divided by 11 digital screens in the center. Videos of dancers performing in soundsuits are played on these screens for three out of 15 minutes.
Shortly before the shutdown, Mayer visited Cave in his Chicago studio. Then the artist came to see the work in Munich.
Although Cave’s first work with mosaics, he’s now more than interested in using the medium again.
“I think of a mosaic as a sculpture – not that it’s just on the walls, but that it exists in the space in which you walk around the work,” said Cave. “So yeah, I’ve been thinking about it ever since I walked into this room.”
And his work with giants will be on 42nd Street: Jacob Lawrence’s “New York In Transit”, Jack Beal’s “The Return of Spring” and “The Onset of Winter” and Jane Dickson’s “The Revelers” are all glass mosaics in Times Square -Station.
Roy Lichtenstein created his “Times Square Mural” out of porcelain enamel. And Samm Kunce’s “Under Bryant Park” is a mosaic made of glass and stone.
“Times Square is the center of the world, of the country,” said Cave.
Sandra Bloodworth, longtime director of MTA Arts & Design, emphasized the artist’s focus on other artists.
Cave is, she said in an interview at Bryant Park, “an artist who cares about people, who is so connected to the community and people’s feelings.”
Having an artist “grounded in it is the work we’ll see when we return,” she continued, “when everyone comes back and revitalizes the city, the timing is just absolutely perfect.”
“Every One” is all about exercise, said Cave. The glass dancers in their bast and fur soundsuits reflect the hustle and bustle of the more than 100,000 people who used the 42nd Street Shuttle every day before the pandemic – up to 10,000 drivers per hour.
On that scorching day in late August, the movement recorded on the walls coincided with what was happening along the corridor under construction. In the middle of the hallway, a man in a hard hat was cutting through stone with a water jet cutter. Another man carefully polished the newly laid mosaic with glass cleaner and steel wool. Sweat dripped and workers hummed around building new tracks.
“We’re not just spectators,” says Cave, “we’re also part of the performance.”