I’m taken aback. Is this a secret message? Maybe from some disgruntled transit worker? Who is this sign talking to? And should we bother? Bother with what? And whyever not?
In that state of botherment, I encounter more signs all of them similarly cryptic and depressing. They cast a pall over the already dank corridor. Taken together, they say:
Why the Pain?
Just Go Home
Do It Again
Wow. What a kick in the pants for all those schmucks scurrying under them to Dilbertville every morning. Kind of makes you want to beat your head against those cinder block walls.
The final sign completely baffled me:
No. It’s the rumpled bed to which the hapless commuter is invited to return, because, you know, why bother?
Some googling later, I discover that this isn’t sabotage or graffiti. This is art, folks. This is poetry. (“Charmingly depressing,” according to one art blogger.) This work was commissioned and installed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).
It’s titled “A Commuter’s Lament” and was done by Norman Colp, who must be a real ray of sunshine, that guy. The MTA commissioned it during a period when the subway was getting all gussied up with original art–most of it impressive and enjoyable.
Mr. Colp’s opus was supposed to be temporary, but it’s been up since 1991, and he died in 2007. End of story, right?
You’d think so. But this is New York, so…
Enter a couple bright-eyed students last November aflame with zeal to make the world (or this corridor of it) a better place. Motivated by the Rabbinic concept of tikkun olam, which means “repairing the world,” they papered over Mr. Colp’s dour verse, tweaking here, brightening there. For example:
Of course, the authorities and art purists were affronted. Art has been tampered with (gasp!), and they lost no time returning it to its original dreary state. Mr. Colp’s widow weighed in on the brouhaha in a predictably upbeat manner, “Why be optimistic in these times? Be realistic–life sucks. You get through it the best you can.”
So much for the wisdom of age.
Actually, the NYC subways are chockablock with great art. I’ve stumbled across some of it, but had no idea how extensive and lovely it is. Here’s a guide that documents it all, including “A Commuter’s Lament.”