Client: Metropolitan Transportation Authority Long Island Rail Road
Location: New York, NY, United States
Completion date: 2023
Public Art Agency
MTA Arts & Design
Mayer of Munich
MTA Construction & Development and Long Island Rail Road
This collection of five mosaic works, totaling over 1,400 square feet, by celebrated artist Kiki Smith, are located throughout two levels of Grand Central Madison. The murals were commissioned by the MTA Arts & Design for a new 700,000-square-foot Long Island Rail Road terminal below Grand Central Terminal. Titled “River Light, The Water’s Way, The Presence, The Spring, and The Sound” (2022), the artwork can be found throughout Long Island Rail Road’s new eastside terminus. Works on view build on the motif of the natural world that Smith has explored for decades. “Kiki Smith’s spectacular mosaics capture the natural beauty of Long Island and light dancing across the East River”, says Sandra Bloodworth, Director, MTA Arts & Design. “The mosaics offer moments of tranquility within the new terminal’s caverns, providing reflective moments for riders who will now be able to travel directly to Midtown East, to and from Long Island.” Grand Central Madison is set to be a new destination in Manhattan, a space that is not only a portal into and out of the New York City, but a place where people will gather to eat, drink, shop and see powerful and thought-provoking art.
“I made images from nature that hold affection and personal significance to me as I hope they will for others,” states artist Kiki Smith. “I am very honored to be included in the tradition of artists making work for the MTA, particularly as I have rarely had the opportunity to make something that lives within the public realm. I tried to bring pleasure to people that may feel hectic as they move to-and-fro and to give them an image to locate themselves in the station and to carry with them home.” The mosaic provides a visual connection to celestial bodies of the night sky and references the nearby Grand Central Terminal’s sky ceiling. Upon entering the new terminal’s Madison Concourse from the historic Grand Central Terminal, one first encounters River Light, a nearly 800 square foot mosaic inspired by the way sunlight glints on the surface of the East River, the threshold between Manhattan and Long Island.
Smith developed her imagery, both visually and narratively, by photographing the local landscape and animal life to portray quiet moments found on the Long Island landscape, rendered in exquisite detail within each of the four arched node walls. Smith made original drawings and paintings and then collaged them together with the help of Magnolia Editions in Oakland, California. These images were sent to Mayer of Munich studio, where over thirty mosaicists created a representation of her work, by hand, in cut tile, stone, and glass. Smith made trips to the workshop in Munich to work closely with artisans and to make adjustments. The mosaics were installed in sections, in the nodes of the station, by a team of mosaic specialists. “The Water’s Way,” includes natural stone to represent the tumbled rocks and rough sand where water makes its way to the ocean. A solitary deer in The Presence stands among reeds rendered with gold foil mosaic pieces; refracted rainbow prisms and Smith’s iconic blue stars create a tender, dreamlike scene. Both Magnolia Editions and Mayer of Munich studio are collaborators that Smith has worked with for over twenty years.
Kiki Smith, born 1954 in Nuremberg, Germany, uses a broad variety of materials to continuously expand and evolve a body of work that includes sculpture, printmaking, photography, drawing, and textiles. Smith has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions worldwide including over 25 museum exhibitions. Her work has been featured at five Venice Biennales, including the 2017 edition. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 2017 was awarded the title of Honorary Royal Academician by the Royal Academy of Arts, London. Previously, Smith was recognized in 2006 by TIME Magazine as one of the “TIME 100: The People Who Shape Our World.” Other awards include the Skowhegan Medal for Sculpture in 2000; the 2009 Edward MacDowell Medal; the 2010 Nelson A. Rockefeller Award, Purchase College School of the Arts; the 2013 U.S. Department of State Medal of Arts, conferred by Hillary Clinton; and the 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Sculpture Center, among others. She is an adjunct professor at NYU and Columbia University.