A meditation on the nature of time and history at Grand Central Station
What do you think passes through someone’s mind as they dash though Grand Central Station? I would wager that the most common thought is something along the lines of “What time does my train leave?” or “Will I be on time?” Time is the driving force behind any working train station. And “time” is a precious commodity in New York City, where we move fast and the past is quickly overtaken by the present. How apt it is that curator Amy Hausman has titled her lyrical and compelling exhibition “On Time/Grand Central at 100,” tying the underlying constructs of speed and travel with the centennial celebration of Grand Central Station. This group exhibition is presented in conjunction with the New York Transit Museum at the New York Transit Museum branch in the station.
Showing mixed-media work of 17 artists and one poet, this is an exquisitely curated show. Approximately half of the pieces were commissioned for the exhibition, including a poem by former Poet Laureate Billy Collins. Time is not a new concept for artists to explore, but in this show time is related to the great building that has both withstood the wrecking ball of New York City “progress” and every day serves as a conduit for living. Grand Central Station has become an iconic and romantic symbol of the past, an architectural ode to New York as it once was. It is also a very busy and entirely contemporary train station. This elegant and emotional exhibition captures the complexities and beauty of these two facts.
It is fitting that video plays a large role in this show and Improv Everywhere has two videos on view. One documents their infamous performance piece where 200 people “froze” motionless in the Grand Hall of the station for five minutes, which captures the reactions of commuters and tourists. The second video documents a commissioned “prank” staged on February 1, 2013 to commemorate the anniversary of the station. It involves blinking lights, camera flashes and the delighted responses of hundreds of people who just happened to be passing though the station at that magic moment. The unfettered joy of being in the right place at the right time. Both pieces portray Grand Central Station as a giant and benevolent performance space.
Jim Campbell and Ian Dicke use the tools available in digital filming to capture and play with the image of masses of people who pass through the station each day, slowing and quickening their movements to create visual poetry.
Mid-century photographer Paul Himmel contributes what I believe are the most poetic and thoughtful comments in the show with two vintage black and white photos that capture a moment of stillness amidst the mad dash of humanity.
Illustrators Sophie Blackall and Peter Sis’s work will be instantly recognizable to any subway rider. They focus their gentle view of the world on the architecture of the station itself. Sis portrays Jacqueline Onassis as literally the guardian angel of Grand Central Station, and Blackwell shows our ongoing fascination with the mythological world portrayed on the station ceiling.
The punch line is that this is an exhibition that asks us to stop and look around as we run frantically through Grand Central Station. Maybe even take a later train.
“OnTime/Grand Central at 100” runs through July 7, 2013 at the New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex in Grand Central Terminal. For more information: www.mta.info/art.
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