On a scorching afternoon in late August, a dedicated crew of construction workers made their way down the hallway between Times Square and Grand Central Station, home to the 42nd Street Shuttle. Here, under the streets of New York City, more than two dozen vibrant glass figures danced along the walls of the subway.
Friday, MTA Arts & Design will officially unveil “Every One,” the first of a three-piece installation by artist Nick Cave, inside the new 42nd Street Connector. The other two parts – “Each One” at the new shuttle entrance and “Equal All” on the wall of the center island platform – will be installed next year.
The $ 1.8 million budget for the project, commissioned by MTA Arts & Design, is part of the overall 42nd Street Shuttle reconstruction and reconfiguration project, which cost more than $ 250 million.
Cave – a sculptor, dancer, and performance artist – is known for his Soundsuits, wearable fabric sculptures made of materials such as twigs, wire, raffia, and even human hair that often generate sound when the wearer moves. (He is also no stranger to the staging of art in stations: in 2017, he brought a flock 30 colorful life-size ‘horses’ at Vanderbilt Hall in Grand Central Terminal.)
As you walk along the new and improved hallway, figures on the wall are shown jumping and spinning in mosaic sound combinations.
“It’s almost like watching a film strip,” Cave said in an interview from his studio in Chicago. “As you move left to right, you see it moving. “
Since the sculptor was selected from a pool of artists in February 2018, he has wondered and worried: how would a dynamic and fluid Soundsuit turn into a static mosaic? He was relieved by the answer: seamless.
When Cave came to New York to see “Every One” in early August, he said, “I felt like I was in the middle of a performance, up close and in a personal way.”
“You just felt that fast, different visceral texture,” he added, “the feeling in the movement and flow of matter that completely resonated.”
Soundsuits have always been an amalgam of cultural references, Cave explained: the concepts of shamans and masquerade, obscuring the race, gender and class of the wearer and forging a new identity. They contain links with Africa, the Caribbean and Haiti.
“It’s very important that you can make referrals, you can connect to something,” Cave said. “In one of the mosaics in the hallway, there is a basketball. This therefore brings him to this current urban period. “
Under a pink and black raffia cape, carefully crafted from shards of glass, a contemporary sneaker takes shape in salmon, white and brown tones. Cave likes the game that takes place here: the form is sometimes figurative, sometimes abstract. “Sometimes it’s identifiable and sometimes it’s not,” he said. “But that’s the beauty of everything.”
Cave created his mosaic from recomposed source photos of Soundsuits in motion taken by James Prinz and interpreted in glass. After completing the design of “Every One” in early 2020, he selected the manufacturer Franz Mayer from Munich from a list provided by MTA Arts & Design. His company, Mayer of Munich, one of the oldest glass and mosaic architecture studios in the world, understood Cave’s vision.
Mayer from Munich has been part of the family of Michael Mayer, its current CEO, for generations. (Michael is Franz’s great-grandson.) Once the German maker knows the artist and his perspective, the team can translate the digitized designs of the work into a mosaic.
Artists, said Mayer, “are people who have magic.”
The maker prints the drawings to scale, places them on a table, and works on them. Cave’s particular mosaic was made using a positive setting method, meaning the pieces of glass were glued directly onto a mesh backing – rather than creating the design upside down, like a mirror image.
“What is the stone that passes to the next and creates a certain symphony?” Mayer spoke about the process. His team cut the pieces of glass, applied them to mesh rugs, and then the mosaic slowly and gradually developed outward. The finished room measures approximately 143 feet on one side and 179 feet on the other, divided by 11 digital screens in the middle. For three minutes out of 15, these screens will broadcast videos of dancers performing in Soundsuits.
Shortly before the closing, Mayer visited Cave at his studio in Chicago. Then the artist came to see the work in progress in Munich.
Although this was Cave’s first time working with mosaics, he is now more than interested in using the medium again.
“I think of the mosaic as a sculpture – not that it’s just on the walls, that it exists in the space that you walk around the work,” Cave said. “So yeah, I’ve been thinking about it ever since I walked into this space.”
“Times Square is the center of the world, of the country,” Cave said.
Sandra Bloodworth, longtime director of MTA Arts & Design, highlighted the artist’s focus on other artists.
Cave is, she said in an interview with Bryant Park, “an artist who cares about people, who is so connected to the community and so connected to the feelings of the people.”
To have an artist “rooted in this be the work that we’re going to see when we get back, ”she continued,“ as everyone comes back and the city revitalizes, the timing is just perfect. “
“Every One” is about movement, said Cave. The glass dancers in their raffia and fur jumpsuits reflect the bustle of more than 100,000 people who took the 42nd street shuttle daily before the pandemic – up to 10,000 runners per hour.
On that scorching day in late August, the movement captured on the walls matched what was happening along the hallway under construction. A man in a helmet sliced the stone in the middle of the hallway with a water jet cutter. Another man carefully polished the newly installed mosaic with glass cleaner and steel wool. Sweat was running and workers buzzed around, building new tracks.
“We’re not just spectators,” said Cave, “but we’re part of the performance as well.”