COVID-19 UPDATE: Moynihan Train Hall is operating in accordance with current New York State safety precautions. Stay up-to-date at NY State Travel Guidelines.

 | 

Discover

Partnership with the Public Art Fund

What makes a public building a truly civic space, able to evoke a sense of shared ownership and collective pride? In the newly renovated Moynihan Train Hall, a series of remarkable public artworks capture and express the spirit of democratic purpose, historical memory, and innovative design that characterize this new centerpiece of New York’s essential urban infrastructure.

The historic Pennsylvania Station, a Beaux Arts masterpiece designed by McKim, Mead & White, opened in 1910. Its demolition in 1963 marked the loss of a beloved architectural and civic landmark in the heart of the city. The state-of-the-art Moynihan Train Hall, completed in December of 2020 under the leadership of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, is a sensitive yet visionary renovation of the 1912 James A. Farley Post Office, the distinguished sister building to the original Pennsylvania Station.

Public Art Fund was invited by Empire State Development to develop and direct a program of ambitious art installations for three prominent sites within the Train Hall. In keeping with the redesigned building’s architectural integration of old and new, the art program commissioned three of the world’s leading artists to create large-scale, site-specific artworks that reflect broadly on notions of past, present, and future. These very different commissions, by Stan Douglas, Elmgreen & Dragset, and Kehinde Wiley, demonstrate each artist’s ingenuity and vision.

Stan Douglas has mined the history of the original Penn Station, giving heroic pictorial life to narratives from different moments in time using today’s most advanced digital technologies. Elmgreen & Dragset have dreamed an imaginary global metropolis into sculptural being, upside down, radiating the city’s irresistible urban energy. Using illuminated stained glass and inspired by classical frescoed ceilings, Kehinde Wiley has adapted the movements of breakdance—a form originated on the streets of the Bronx—into a lyrical allegory of dynamic human expression. Characterized by daring juxtapositions of old and new, these commissions are emblematic of the constant states of innovation and transformation which are quintessentially New York. They are captivating and powerful in different ways, each inspired by New York’s rich heritage, its diverse and talented people, and its creative spirit. Together, they give dazzling artistic definition to the generous, civic character of Moynihan Train Hall.

Ticketed Waiting Room - STAN DOUGLAS

Stan Douglas (b. 1960 in Vancouver, Canada; lives and works in Vancouver)
22 April 1924 and 7 August 1934, from Penn Station’s Half Century, 2020.
Ceramic ink on glass. Nine photographic panels from Penn Station’s Half Century, installed in four niches: each niche 6′ 7 5/8” H x 22′ 2 ½” W x ½” D, Commissioned by Empire State Development in partnership with Public Art Fund for Moynihan Train Hall.
©Stan Douglas. Courtesy of the artist, Victoria Miro and David Zwirner.
Photo: Nicholas Knight, courtesy Empire State Development and Public Art Fund, NY.

Artist Stan Douglas drew on archival research to reconstruct nine remarkable but forgotten moments from the history of the original Pennsylvania Station (1910-1963). He seamlessly combined photographs of costumed performers with digitally recreated interiors of the demolished Station. The resulting images pay tribute to that grand building and to the layers of human experience that bring our civic spaces to life.

From 1910 to 1963 the original Pennsylvania Station stood one block east of Moynihan Train Hall, on the footprint of today’s Madison Square Garden. The demolition of the grand, Beaux Arts building, designed by eminent American architects McKim, Mead & White, is now considered an incomparable loss to the history of Gilded Age architecture and to the urban landscape of New York. In the Amtrak Waiting Room at Moynihan Train Hall, artist Stan Douglas’s nine photographic panels, arranged in three pairs and one triptych, reconstruct significant but little-known moments spanning the Station’s half-century lifespan, standing as vivid evocations of the city’s forgotten history. In order to recreate both the demolished building and these moments, Douglas undertook extensive archival research. Extrapolating from photographs, newspaper articles, and architectural plans, he restaged historical events by posing and photographing live performers in period costume. Douglas stitched together dozens of exposures to create each tableau, which he then set within exactingly rendered CGI (computer-generated imagery) backgrounds that faithfully reproduce the soaring ceilings and stately concourses of the original Station. Douglas selected events that chronicle the breadth of collective experience for which Penn Station served as a stage. With a cinematic quality, each scene revives history in uncanny detail, revealing this architectural landmark as a grand theater for the millions of human dramas that animate civic spaces and endow them with meaning.

Since the late 1980s, Stan Douglas has used photography, film, and theater to reconsider history and the means of its documentation, which define its shape in our collective memory. Born of exhaustive historical research, Douglas’s artworks bring new focus to overlooked events specific to a particular location. He frequently hones in on intimate, localized moments of spectacle and poignancy that speak to broader societal shifts. In restaging these events, Douglas consciously references the technologies he employs to bring them to life. In Penn Station’s Half Century, depictions of vaudeville performers, Hollywood set designs, and photo mural ad campaigns echo Douglas’s own artistic process, suggesting that photographic documentation has the potential to be a medium of fantasy as much as one of verisimilitude. Conceived specifically for the series of four architectural niches that anchor the rear wall of the Amtrak Waiting Room, the nine individual scenes are connected by multiple narrative threads and introduce subtle details that reveal themselves upon close examination. Penn Station’s Half Century is the artist’s first permanent public commission in the United States.

1 March 1914
(niche 1, panel 1)
6′ 1” H x 10′ 8 ½” W x ½” D

On March 1st and 2nd, 1914, vaudeville performers from across the Eastern Seaboard were stranded in Penn Station during an epic snowstorm that brought rail traffic to a halt. Bert Williams, the legendary singer, comedian, and first African-American to direct a motion picture, recognized the talent in the room and instigated an impromptu vaudeville show to the delight of his fellow travelers. Douglas reproduces this serendipitous moment, where acrobatics transformed the cavernous Waiting Room into a theater in-the-round, and musical numbers turned its staircase into a stage.

2 March 1914
(niche 1, panel 2)
6′ 1” H x 10′ 8 ½” W x ½” D

On March 1st and 2nd, 1914, vaudeville performers from across the Eastern Seaboard were stranded in Penn Station during an epic snowstorm that brought rail traffic to a halt. Bert Williams, the legendary singer, comedian, and first African-American to direct a motion picture, recognized the talent in the room and instigated an impromptu vaudeville show to the delight of his fellow travelers. Douglas reproduces this serendipitous moment, where acrobatics transformed the cavernous Waiting Room into a theater in-the-round, and musical numbers turned its staircase into a stage.

22 April 1924
(niche 2, panel 1)
6′ 1” H x 10′ 8 ½” W x ½” D

In 1924 Celia Cooney, famously known as the “Bobbed Hair Bandit,” became a folk hero after evading arrest following a series of brazen robberies with her husband. Alternately characterized by the press as a working-class hero or a corrupted libertine, the sensationalized Cooney was finally apprehended in Florida and returned to New York City to face charges. Douglas depicts the moment Cooney arrived at Penn Station, restaging the New York Evening Post’s report of the event: “An unruly throng jammed the station platform…Fists flew, men shouted, women screamed…[Cooney] smiled broadly to the newspaper photographers and winked as a battery of flashlight “guns” exploded.”

7 August 1934
(niche 2, panel 2)
6′ 1” H x 10′ 8 ½” W x ½” D

In 1934 Angelo Herndon, a celebrated labor organizer, gave a series of speeches in New York City during his release on bail from a Georgia prison chain gang. Herndon had been charged with insurrection for organizing a peaceful interracial demonstration of unemployed workers in Atlanta. His case, twice brought to the Supreme Court, raised consciousness nationally around the inequities of the judicial system in the American South. Douglas portrays Herndon’s arrival at Penn Station, where Communist party members and supporters gathered in the thousands to hail him as a martyr in the cause for racial justice and workers’ rights.

20 June 1930
(niche 3, panel 1)
6′ 1” H x 7′ 11/16” W x ½” D

Douglas’s third sequence of images in the series depicts three design interventions in the Station’s Waiting Room that signaled broader technological and societal changes. The scenes unfold over three decades, each shown in the early morning of June 20th, the summer solstice, as the sun pours into the Waiting Room and passengers begin to trickle into the grand space.

Penn Station’s Waiting Room boasted a novelty display of a trimotor airplane to promote a new, 48-hour coast-to-coast travel service operated by Transcontinental Air Transport in partnership with Pennsylvania Railroad and Santa Fe Railroad. The route took passengers by train to Ohio, by air to Oklahoma, by rail to New Mexico, and finally, by air to California. The ten-passenger vessel, dubbed The City of New York, was christened by pioneering aviator Amelia Earhart at its unveiling, for which it had to be taken apart and reassembled to fit into the hall. Though the line was too expensive for mass transit, it presaged the increased popularity and efficiency of air travel over the century and, consequentially, the dwindling demand for long-distance train travel.

20 June 1944
(niche 3, panel 2)
6′ 1” H x 7′ 11/16” W x ½” D

Douglas’s third sequence of images in the series depicts three design interventions in the Station’s Waiting Room that signaled broader technological and societal changes. The scenes unfold over three decades, each shown in the early morning of June 20th, the summer solstice, as the sun pours into the Waiting Room and passengers begin to trickle into the grand space.

During World War II, railroads proved vital to the war effort as the primary means for transporting goods and service people across the country. In 1943, six massive photo murals by designer Raymond Loewy were hung on the west wall of the Waiting Room to celebrate the almost 50,000 Pennsylvania Railroad employees’ service to the nation. Each depicted a representative from various professions within the Railroad: conductor, engineer, soldier, sailor, marine, and, most remarkably, “red-cap” porter, an essential occupation filled exclusively by Black men in the decades before desegregation. Ultimately, World War II would act as a catalyst for progressive changes throughout the 1950s and ‘60s in the United States, including efforts towards better labor conditions and a more racially equitable country.

20 June 1957
(niche 3, panel 3)
6′ 1” H x 7′ 11/16” W x ½” D

Douglas’s third sequence of images in the series depicts three design interventions in the Station’s Waiting Room that signaled broader technological and societal changes. The scenes unfold over three decades, each shown in the early morning of June 20th, the summer solstice, as the sun pours into the Waiting Room and passengers begin to trickle into the grand space.

By mid-century, air and automobile travel eclipsed rail as America’s primary modes of transportation, and McKim, Mead & White’s grand train station came to be regarded as outdated. In the final scene in this triptych, Douglas illustrates both the subtle ravages of time—such as the fading colors in Jules Guérin’s painted frieze of topographical landscapes, begrimed over the years by the residue of train exhaust—and a dramatic attempt to keep pace with modernity. In 1956, designer Lester C. Tichy was hired to create a futuristic Electronic Ticket Sales & Service Bureau, dubbed the “clam shell.” Though criticized for clashing with the historical architectural context of Penn Station, Tichy’s ticket counter became an important influence on celebrated modernist buildings that succeeded it, including Eero Saarinen’s swooping TWA terminal at JFK Airport. The installation of the ticket bureau proved a harbinger of the decade’s changing tastes and commercial priorities, as the McKim, Mead & White Station was demolished only six years later, in 1963.

10 November 1941
(niche 4, panel 1)
6′ 1” H x 10′ 8 ½” W x ½” D

During World War II, Penn Station was a primary arrival and departure site for deployed soldiers, and thus a site for joyous reunifications and heart-rending goodbyes. Taking on a prominent place in the American imagination, the Station exemplified the hope, gratitude, sorrow, and sacrifice experienced by so many Americans during wartime. Douglas’s tender scene, based on photos of the time, shows a final moment of affection as soldiers bid farewell to loved ones.

15 September 1944
(niche 4, panel 2)
6′ 1” H x 10′ 8 ½” W x ½” D

The last scene in Douglas’s photo series shows a soundstage from the 1945 film “The Clock” by director Vincente Minnelli. The popular film, shot entirely at the MGM studio in Culver City, CA, starred Judy Garland opposite Robert Walker, who played a soldier discovering New York City and finding love the day before his deployment to war. Douglas captures the vacant set—populated only by technicians, props, and lighting instruments—that would become the backdrop for the couple’s fortuitous meeting as well as their emotional parting. Much like Douglas’s own process, Minnelli’s film used artifice to recreate the nostalgic romance associated with the Station and its status as an iconic site in United States culture.

31st Street Entry - ELMGREEN & DRAGSET

Elmgreen & Dragset
The Hive, 2020
Michael Elmgreen (b. 1961 in Copenhagen, Denmark; lives and works in Berlin, Germany), Ingar Dragset (b. 1969 in Trondheim, Norway; lives and works in Berlin, Germany)
45’ 5” L x 22’ 5” W x 12’ D
Stainless steel, aluminum, polycarbonate, LED lights, and lacquer.
Commissioned by Empire State Development in partnership with Public Art Fund for Moynihan Train Hall
Photo: Nicholas Knight, courtesy Empire State Development and Public Art Fund, NY.

Suspended from the ceiling of the 31st Street Mid-block Entrance Hall, The Hive is a 1:100 scaled architectural model that offers a surreal and fantastical vision of a global metropolis. Dozens of illuminated high-rise buildings descend toward visitors, their downturned orientation inviting new and varied perspectives as visitors move around the space. Artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset has combined miniaturized skyscrapers of their own invention with iconic high-rise buildings from megacities around the world, distilling these towers into their most essential forms. This fictional city combines landmarks from Chicago, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, London, and Paris as well as iconic New York City silhouettes.

Titling the work The Hive, the artists suggest a link between natural and human-built structures, like the complex and evolving architecture of a beehive. They have also compared the ceiling-mounted buildings to luminous stalactites that pay tribute to the highly developed cities we live in today while reminding us of our cave-dweller origins. Familiar yet foreign, this uncanny, hybridized representation of an urban center highlights the globalization of architectural design and evokes the influence and interconnectedness of the world’s great cities. Like an inverted reflection of the cityscape just beyond the Train Hall doors, The Hive expresses the quintessential idea of New York City as a melting pot where cultures, nationalities, and ethnicities coexist to become greater than the sum of their parts.

Since 1995, the artistic duo Elmgreen & Dragset have created sculptures and installations that encourage novel perspectives on the structures and systems that govern our lives. Their works transpose and relocate everyday objects into unexpected arrangements and settings, often with subversive humor. Through recontextualizations of the familiar, the artists transform the quotidian fixtures of our lived environment—ATM machines, sewage pipes, suburban swimming pools—inviting new narratives and activating associations with broader societal tensions. Elmgreen & Dragset’s strategy of displacement fundamentally shifts our perception of our surroundings and often resists notions of conformity within our built and socio-cultural environments. In keeping with their practice and in visual dialogue with the artists’ works Magic Mushrooms (2015) and City In The Sky (2019), The Hive allows us a surprising perceptual and spatial relationship to a familiar view, the city skyline. The looming stature of the inverted skyscrapers is at once overpowering and enthralling. It evokes the magnetic draw of cities and the continual urbanization of our world. With buildings up to 9’ tall and integrating over .8 miles (1.3km) of LED strip, this is one of their most technically complex installations. The Hive is the artists’ first permanent public sculpture in New York.

33rd Street Entry - KEHINDE WILEY

Kehinde Wiley (b. 1977 in Los Angeles, CA; lives and works in New York City and Dakar, Senegal)
Go, 2020 © Kehinde Wiley.
17’6” L x 55’8” W x 10” D
Stained glass with aluminum frame, gypsum molding, steel structure, and LED light panel
An original work of art commissioned by Empire State Development in partnership with Public Art Fund for Moynihan Train Hall.
Photographer: Nicholas Knight. Image courtesy of the Artist, Sean Kelly, New York, Empire State Development and Public Art Fund, NY.

Commanding the expansive ceiling of the 33rd Street Midblock Entrance Hall, Kehinde Wiley’s hand-painted glass triptych celebrates the vibrancy and virtuosity of bodies in motion at monumental scale. Go is an exuberant depiction of young, Black New Yorkers in poses drawn from breakdance, the modern dance style, which originated on the streets of New York during the 1960s and 70s among African American and Latino youth. Wiley draws on the classical European tradition of frescoed ceilings, using a pronounced foreshortening technique (often associated with 18th century master Giovanni Battista Tiepolo) to create the impression of figures ascending to the heavens above. He captures them mid-gesture, against billowing clouds in a brilliant blue sky, lunging and twisting in poses that embody the combination of precision, athleticism, and expression inherent to this acrobatic style of performance. Wiley casts his subjects in roles traditionally reserved for saints and angels, depicting them instead as unique individuals attired in their regular streetwear. These contemporary avatars of the sublime are awesome in their gravity-defying abilities, yet familiar to any subway rider; an image of joy at the intersection of the epic and the intimate. Go extends the metaphorical language of light and divinity to reveal the talent, beauty, and power of Black bodies. Translating the urban environment into a celestial dreamscape, Wiley communicates an optimistic spirit of buoyancy, possibility, and survival.

Over the last two decades, Kehinde Wiley has gained recognition for his highly naturalistic paintings of Black and Brown people in poses and formats drawn from the Western art historical canon. He has often invited young people he encounters in urban centers around the world to embody a pose of their choosing from the portraits of European old masters, underscoring complicated and enduring socio-political histories that have determined the exclusion of people of color from much of art history. In recent years, Wiley has expanded his practice to the genres of statuary and public monument as well as the medium of stained glass. The three-part, backlit work responds astutely to its architectural context, echoing Moynihan Train Hall’s skylights and incorporating details of the ornamental ironwork from the building’s façade into the elaborate molding that frames the composition. Go is his first permanent, site-specific installation in glass.

Dear New York, You Deserve the Greatest.