MetroNapoli's publicly funded project transforms local metro stations into commuter-friendly art spaces that are some of the most impressive in Europe
The project began a decade ago as part of MetroNapoli‘s efforts to renew Naples’ urban landscape.
The Art stations originated from a project formulated by the city government with a view to make the urban area’s public transport centers more attractive and to give everyone a chance to get an up-close look at prime examples of contemporary artUnder the direction of Achille Bonto Oliva, former director of the Venice Biennale, several stations have been converted into art galleries displaying over 180 works by more than 90 artists and architects such as Alessandro Mendini, Anish Kapoor, Gae Aulenti, Karim Rashid, and Sol LeWitt. Not only do these stations function as underground galleries, but they are architectural feats that stand alone as works of art.
The latest station, Metro Toledo, which is situated under one of Naples’ main shopping streets, was designed by the Spanish firm of architect Oscar Tusquets Blanca and opened after some delay in September 2012. It was designed around the theme of water and light with mosaics by South African artist William Kentridge and works by Francesco Clemente, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, Shirin Nehsat and Oliviero Toscani on display.
MetroNapoli’s art stations make up a decentralized museum that is spread throughout the city. The project makes art integral to the cityscape, and more importantly, accessible to the everyday commuter. Instead of tired eyes gazing wearily at the evening paper, people are given an aesthetically-complex environment to interact and engage with – all for the small price of a metro ticket.
Click below to see some of Naples’ most impressive stations:
Subterranean Naples, Brimming With Art
Giulio Piscitelli for the International Herald Tribune
Published: February 15, 2013
Above ground, the raucous bustle that is Naples perfunctorily orchestrates its moving components into a daily rhythm that is effectively functional chaos, against a dissonant background juxtaposing luxurious Baroque palazzos with derelict housing.
Giulio Piscitelli for the International Herald Tribune
But just a few steps below ground is a very different, and unexpected, setting — a trove of art installations that has transformed the city’s subway system into an eclectic and far-flung museum, featuring some of the best known contemporary artists in the world.
“I think of it as an obligatory museum,” said Achille Bonito Oliva, an art critic and curator who has been the artistic coordinator of the project — “catacombs of beauty,” he calls it — since it began more than a decade ago.
“It isn’t a museum in the sense of a repository of art,” he continued, “there’s a thread running through it” as stations are built to fashion “an underground aesthetic of the contemporary, bearing witness to our time.”
Still a work in progress, the “art subway” has commissioned work from about 100 artists so far — most of them Italians, with a good dose of local talent — and an international roster that includes William Kentridge, Katharina Sieverding and Sol LeWitt, to name a few.
“Artists come and present their vision of Naples to help Neapolitans see their city differently,” said Antonella Di Nocera, the city counselor responsible for culture. “In this city, people take history for granted, but we want to teach young people that they are part of a stratified city.”
The subway “draws on the strength of what Naples has to offer,” she said.
Working in various media, the artists have collaborated closely with prominent architects to transform utilitarian places of transit into captivating sites.
“This wasn’t about decorating the architecture, it’s about enhancing the space with the works of artists called on to dialogue with the space,” Mr. Bonito Oliva said. The stations, he added, are “monuments to innovation.”
If there’s something paradoxical about the construction of a lavish subway system in a city whose aboveground transportation system is in such shambles that last month buses were grounded because the transportation authority ran out of money to pay for gas, Neapolitans seem to be taking it in stride.
“It’s a complicated challenge in a moment of economic difficulties, when even more funds are necessary,” said the mayor of Naples, Luigi de Magistris. But his office, he said, was committed to decongesting the city’s notorious traffic through the expansion of the subway system (and also with the introduction of bike routes, and more pedestrian areas). “Reducing traffic is a way to regenerate the city.”
The cultural regeneration of Naples is central to the philosophy of the art subway, introducing the works of contemporary artists to people who would normally shy away from more academic art venues.
“This was not an episodic choice, it was the fruit of a political, cultural choice,” Mr. Bonito Oliva said.
A choice initiated by previous administrations that included the opening of new museums in a city where for decades contemporary art had been championed mostly by private galleries. “There’s been a great conjunction of energies in Naples despite its marginality as a center of art,” said Pierpaolo Forte, president of the Fondazione Donnaregina for contemporary arts, which runs Naples’ main contemporary art museum Madre, just now emerging from a dark moment precipitated by budget cuts.
In theory, Naples was poised to have one of the first subways in Italy. Lamont Young (1851-1929), a Naples-born architect of Scottish-English descent, drafted a proposal for a subway among his many projects for his native city, but it was never built.
Even as rail lines began to link the suburbs to the city center — about 90 kilometers, or 55 miles, in all today — it took decades for a concrete plan to come about and the first stations opened in 1993. The art-subway stations were conceived as part of a larger urban transport plan that was formally adopted in 2003, even though some of the art stations were already operating. The project has been funded mostly by the European Union.
“We started with local artists and then broadened out to include non-Italians to make Naples a more international city, open to the world,” said Giannegidio Silva, the president of M.N. Metropolitana di Napoli S.p.A, which builds the subway.
Gae Aulenti and the firm Atelier Mendini were the first architects to work on the project, setting the tone for the whole. The Salvador Rosa stop, for example, includes a large garden outside and integrates the surrounding palazzos.
“Reviving the above-ground areas, redefining the spaces of our city,” is an integral element of the project, Mr. de Magistris said.
It hasn’t all been smooth building. Because of its volcanic origins and an aquifer beneath the city, Naples has unique hydrogeological conditions that had to be factored into the construction of the stations. Then, as is common in much of Italy, excavations unearthed numerous archaeological artifacts, which repeatedly brought work to a halt until the Culture Ministry could evaluate their importance and determine how best to proceed. Some of the artifacts are displayed in a corridor that links the Museum station, designed by Ms. Aulenti, to the Archeological Museum. Haunting black-and-white photographs of Greco-Roman statues by Mimmo Iodice line the station atrium.
A Roman-era temple, once central to the city’s games, discovered during the dig of the Duomo, or Cathedral, stop will be incorporated into the new station.
“Ancient Naples is as large as the modern city, and we dug deeply to avoid contact, but that wasn’t always possible,” Mr. Silva said, who added that the archaeological finds had significantly driven up the cost of the subway.
Mr. LeWitt was among the first foreigners to be involved in the project. He had strong ties with Naples, where he first exhibited in the 1970s, and he left various line drawings here, as well as a piece for the Materdei station. “There was a strong link between Sol and Naples,” said Adachiara Zevi, who curated the LeWitt exhibition showing at Madre until the end of March. “He wanted to pay homage to Naples.”
The designer Karim Rashid was entrusted with the University of Naples station, inaugurated in March 2011, and used a variety of materials to envelop surfaces with colorful, almost psychedelic patterns, to dispel any residual underground gloom.
The Toledo station opened in September, designed by the Catalan architect Oscar Tusquets Blanca with works by William Kentridge and the Neopolitan Achille Cevoli and an ethereal light panel seascape by Robert Wilson. The jaw-dropping escalator alone is worth the price of a ticket.
Three months later, city officials inaugurated a newly redesigned pedestrian square at one entrance of the station with a large equestrian statue, also by Mr. Kentridge, no stranger to Naples, after a 2010 exhibit at the Capodimonte Museum.
Mr. Kentridge’s mosaics in the atrium of the station look to ancient frescoes from Pompeii for inspiration, depicting a joyous parade of distinctly Neapolitan personages and ancient myths.
The subway authorities “understood that a great artist was passing through the city and that it was important to ask him to leave a mark on the city,” said Lia Rumma, a gallery owner who represents Mr. Kentridge and one of the mainstays of the contemporary art scene here.
“That is Naples, nobility and misery, from whence great art can emerge.”
A few stations remain to be built, linking the underground system with existing rail lines, funicular railroads, the port and the airport to create a more integrated transit system. Some stations are still disconnected from the main line, which will eventually ring Naples.
Mr. Bonito Oliva said the stations would contain works by Michelangelo Pistoletto, Rebecca Horn, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov and Shirin Neshat.
Mr. Silva expects the works to be completed by 2015.
Although Naples is not known to be the cleanest city — uncollected garbage periodically blocks the streets — the art subway stations remain relatively graffiti free, and a team of workers is charged with continuous maintenance, Mr. Bonito Oliva said.
“The art works are respected, they haven’t been vandalized,” said Ms. Di Nocera, the municipal counselor. It’s a “public miracle,” especially in a city that “has the ability to self-destruct.”
Speaking to locals, it’s clear that Neapolitans are proud of the subway. “It gives a different idea of Naples, which usually gets into the news because of the local Mafia,” said Alessandro Arzeni, an accountant. “And now it’s easier too for tourists to move around, on a subway, like any major city.”
Did he think locals would be riding it much? “Neapolitans are lazy, they’d rather take a car,” he said.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: February 18, 2013
A previous version of this article misstated the first name and affiliation of Mr. Silva. He is Giannegidio Silva, not Gianni. He is the president of M.N. Metropolitana di Napoli S.p.A, which builds the subway, not president of MetroNapoli, the company that manages the subway.
New York designer Karim Rashid has renovated the University of Naples subway station in Naples, Italy.
Commuters pass between huge columns with the profiles of faces towards a shifting lenticular wall of graphic patterns.
Sculptures and graphic artworks line the escalators, leading to platforms with backlit patterns on the walls.
More about Karim Rashid on Dezeen »
The information below is from Karim Rashid:
The University of Naples subway station is highly trafficked by a multi-cultural, academic community of thousands of passengers a day.
A creative concept that communicates and embodies knowledge in the new digital age, language in the shrinking global landscape, innovation and mobility in this third technological revolution.
Naples is no longer a historic southern city of Italy but instead now is an integral intellectual information haven that extends itself throughout the rest of the world.
This is the changing Italy and the station is a metaphor of this new wired global condition. It integrates the station with its surroundings, as well as provides a platform for innovative, cutting-edge design strategy.
We utilize the descension from the piazza to the subway platforms to represent a metaphorical shift from the conscious brain to the spiritual mind. Experiencing this journey, the commuter is able to define one’s own experience by interpreting the individual shift from a busy “brain state” to a focused “mind state”.
Entering into the station from the piazza to the subway station, the visitor will walk though a space clad with tiles, each one with is printed with new words created in this last century. Once the visitor arrives in the station lobby, he/she is impacted by the soft nature of the space, the striking palette of colors and patterns.
Along the back wall of the station lobby level, lenticular iconography changing colors and perspective provides an interesting siteline as commuters proceed to the platforms below. Intersecting the space between the heads profile benches (metaphorically intersecting the dialogue) is an abstracted, SYNPOSIS sculpture reflecting the nodes of the brain and the synapses which occur within.
When descending to the subway platforms via escalator, a visitor experiences a transition from the busy piazza to a more intimate, focused environment. It is here where we display various artworks and other graphic art as a focal point. These abstract images invoke the user to shape the environment according to his/her own creative interpretations.
Rolling LED programming situated behind frosted glass displays universally recognized words, referencing knowledge and the multicultural university setting.
Descending and ascending the stairwells on each respective platform, the steps have abstracted portraits of Dante and Beatrice. Once the commuter arrives at the end of the escalator, transformational digital art follows he/she to the platform stairways. The accent colors, lime and pink, indicates the direction and guide visitors through the descent to the final destination.
Airframe surfaces speak about the beauty of our airframe voxels of the flux and ever dynamic multidimensional information and data age (infostethiks).
The platform level of the subway station is where the people spend the most static time. One’s experience while waiting for the subway is enhanced by the tranquil, imaginative environment of the “mindstate”. Seating is provided in the form of landscape forms.
The back wall of the subway platform is a backlit artwork, providing a continuous soft glow in the space. Across the platform, digital artwork creates an entertaining distraction. In addition to related iconography, the piece could include a shadow of an oncoming train, etc. to signify a train’s arrival.
A subway station is a temporal, transitional space, yet the commuter is contained for a short period of time before continuing his/her journey.
As he/she transitions from one environment to another, he/she is most likely reviewing the day’s previous events, or preparing for the next task. Our concept focuses on the commuter experience within the train station, and how the surrounding environment can serve as a respite in a day’s schedule.