The New York City Subway Was Another World In 1980

The New York City Subway Was Another World In 1980

The annual Armory Show has kicked off in New York City, showcasing art from around the world, although perhaps still most widely known for its controversial 1917 show, when Marcel Duchamp displayed a repurposed urinal as art and the minds and morals of the art world collectively exploded.

This year, nearly a century later, amongst the many artists and collectors hungry for deals, prowling for the next big thing, just one display among many, the Howard Greenberg Gallery will be showing images by renowned urban photographer Bruce Davidson.

Gizmodo got in touch with the gallery to find out more about Davidson’s work, and we received a small but definitive selection of Davidson’s NYC subway images, all from his series New York City Subway 1980. Two of the photos seen here are featured in the gallery’s display at the Armory Show.

Perhaps more interestingly, the subway in Davidson’s work is simultaneously all but unrecognizable — with nearly every internal surface covered in graffiti, including the scratched and painted windows — and utterly, even boringly familiar. People of different backgrounds and ethnicities all ride the rails together, passing through this foundational labyrinth of the city as they head onward to whatever eventual destinations they might have.

These photos could have been taken on another planet — or yesterday, last week, last summer. But that’s the nearly undeniable, inter-dimensional appeal of New York City.

The humidity and heat of the summer, during which Davidson’s photos were taken, also comes across very clearly in the tank-tops, breezy dresses, and repurposed lawn furniture hauled onto the train for personal comfort, however fleeting it might ultimately be.

For an at-the-time thoroughly suburban nation, New York in the 1980s seemed like a doomed megalopolis in a near-constant, intolerable swelter, an endless summer rush of power failures, hip-hop, and looming violence, always just one or two degrees away from collapse.

Davidson’s carnivalesque glimpse of the subway system thus present infrastructure as a weird kind of urban autobiography, the city writing its own history through the A train, the C, the J, the Z, an unidentified express train cruising as fast as possible for an eventual place to break down and rest for the night, letting off some steam (and passengers) for another day in this 5-borough furnace.

While only the first and third images in this post will be on display at this year’s Armory Show, you also only have until March 9 to see them — so be sure to stop by soon. [Howard Greenberg Gallery]

Pictures: ©Bruce Davidson, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York