D’Angelo Lovell Williams, “Undetectable” (2020) installed at Fulton Street and Jay Street, Brooklyn, as part of Art on the Grid (artwork courtesy the artist and Higher Pictures Generation/Janice Guy; all images courtesy Public Art Fund, NY photo by Nicholas Knight)

For the past few months, art, like everything else amid the pandemic, has largely had to be experienced outdoors. Fortunately, the Public Art Fund, always working in public space, was uniquely prepared for this moment. For their exhibition Art on the Grid, 50 artists created work reflecting on the pandemic, the ongoing protests against anti-Black racism, and themes of reconnection and renewal. The curators installed those works in over 500 bus shelters and 1,700 wifi kiosks around the five boroughs, transforming each display into a canvas.

Marley Freeman, “Venuses Balcony” (2020), installed at Nassau St between Gold Street and Navy Street, Brooklyn (artwork courtesy the artist and Karma, New York; photo by Nicholas Knight)
Andrew Kuo, “Ideal Map of New York City 2020” (2020) installed at 35 Ave and 31 St, Queens, as part of Art on the Grid (artwork courtesy the artist, photo by Nicholas Knight)

Lingering at a bus stop generally indicates something has failed — my time management, the infrastructure of New York City transit — but I was surprisingly moved by Andrew Kuo’s “Ideal Map of New York City” (2020), which envisions New York not as a grid, but as a series of nested squares, mostly in pastels. Its legend, instead of indicating historical landmarks, pinpoints locations such as “where you can feel safe and be yourself at no emotional cost,” and “where every type of help is available to anyone who wants it.”

Adam Khalil, “another day without a future, but what the hell another day…” (2020), installed at Cadman Plaza between Clark Street and Tillary Street (artwork courtesy the artist, New Red Order, and Walker Tate; photo by Nicholas Knight)
Nina Chanel Abney, “Untitled” (2020), installed at Tillary St between Court Street and Cadman Plaza, Brooklyn (artwork courtesy the artist and Pace Prints, New York; photo by Nicholas Knight)

On a bus shelter near Cadman Plaza, the usual travel posters and ads for oat milk gave up their real estate to a person in a red cowboy hat, with a bob sharp enough to make knives jealous, carrying a lantern. An urban cowboy to light our way through coronavirus? Better. It was a painting, “Untitled” (2020) by Nina Chanel Abney.

Oto Gillen’s “Path, July 22, 2019,” (2020), is either the opening to a leafy cave, a portal to a new dimension, or perhaps just the inside of a tree. Decoding it on Grand Street was remarkably soothing.

Oto Gillen, “Path, July 22, 2019” (2020), installed at 57th Street Between 8th and 9th Avenues, Manhattan (artwork courtesy the artist; photo by Oto Gillen)
Baseera Khan, “Blue White and Red” (2020), installed at Fulton Street and Ashland Place, Brooklyn (artwork courtesy the artist and Simone Subal Gallery, New York; photo by Nicholas Knight)

Art on the Grid also features several artists with newly reopened exhibitions, like Jordan Casteel. I adore her portraits, but if you’re not ready to head back to a museum, you can improve your bus waiting experience with her portrait, “Minnesota” (2020), pictured here in Williamsburg. The subject’s eyes are hidden with a hat, but his concentration is palpable, his hunched position so familiar I felt a sympathetic back ache.

The exhibition is set to end on September 20, just as museums are beginning to reopen. I wish it would stick around. The work softens, just a little, our long waits, for the bus, for the pandemic to be over.

Jordan Casteel, “Minnesota” (2020), installed at Graham Ave between Metropolitan Avenue and Devoe Street, Brooklyn (artwork courtesy the artist and Casey Kaplan, New York; photo by Nicholas Knight)

Public Art Fund’s 50 Artists: Art on the Grid continues through September 20 across the five boroughs. The exhibition was curated by Nicholas Baume, Daniel S. Palmer, and Katerina Stathopoulou. (You can find an interactive map at the link above.)

Ilana Novick writes about art, culture, politics, and the intersection of the three. Her work has appeared in Brooklyn Based, Brokelyn, Policy Shop, The American Prospect, and Alternet.

2 replies on “Public Art to Ease the Anxiety of Waiting”

  1. This is a wonderful subject, great images and a marvelous brief, well focused text. It is enviably excellent. I am pleased and inspired. Congratulations! You made my week!

  2. Wise up people. They are only putting art up there because there are no paying ad buyers due to the recession in the outdoor advertising industry. And any art installed has to be “approved” beforehand, which would rule out a lot of possible content. Let’s not get too rhapsodic here.

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