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New York Subway Aesthetics: '81 Street – Museum of Natural History'

Leonid Rayevsky

journalist, travel guide and guide


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Filled with faith in the imperial power of the motherland, the spirit and grandeur of the architecture and decoration of the Moscow subway, our compatriots who appeared on the banks of the Hudson and the East River traditionally treated the New York subway with a certain prejudice and disdain. Fitting in the slogan: "dirty, rusty and thundering." However, as time passed, the metro became much cleaner, the rust was removed or replaced, and the grinding at the corners of the outer lines began to be regarded as a reminder of the upcoming replacements of the main lines. With the hope that soon it will seem to us a nostalgic reminder of the difficulties of developing a great country and a legendary city. And then, many decorative decorations of its stations may be lost. So, it's time to remind you of the most interesting of them. Today we are traveling with you through the 81st Street subway station.

Here and below, the photo of the author is used (unless otherwise indicated in the signature)

There are a lot of unusual things at this metro station. Starting from its name - "81 Street - Museum of Natural History". True, with the fact that with the repeated numbering of streets on different metro lines, paired names are sometimes introduced - we have already encountered. Let's say there are stations on 42nd Street with clarifying names: Port Authority, Bus Terminal, Times Sq., Bryant Park and Grand Central. Or on 14th Street, where detailed references to 8 Av, 7Av, 6 Av, and Union Sq. are added to station names. Also, with the fact that the names of the stations can be an indication of a specific, well-known building in the city: World Trade Center or City Hall. But here, the 81st Street station bears the museum's name. Such an honor (and in the city there are about 145-ty different levels of museums) was awarded only one more station, with the name of the not so well-known Brooklyn Museum (Eastern Parkway - Brooklyn Museum).

Photo: IStock

It is difficult to say why this happened: a spontaneous combination of circumstances, the specifics of the construction of metro lines, market conditions, political or economic problems - no one will ever answer these questions. But, none of the famous museums on the famous "New York Museum Mile" (including the Metropolitan, the New Gallery, the Guggenheim and Barrio Museums, or the Frick Collection) have subway stations near their buildings. And the Museum of Natural History has, moreover, with the exit from the station platforms immediately to the museum. Train lines stop at the station: A (at night), B (on weekdays - in the afternoon and evening until 23:00) and C - only during the day. At the same time, the station is transited without stopping the train routes A (daytime) and D (around the clock).

And although this station is local, but, as we have already said, not quite ordinary. Its main difference is that it was completed and commissioned (1932) on two levels. At the same time, the upper level is used only by trains, next in Bronx, and the lower one - oncoming, heading to the side Lower Manhattan. Each of them was provided with one wide side platform with two tracks (the second is used by express trains). Thus, a two-level station was formed, consisting of platforms located one below the other, on the western side of the tracks. And passing expresses use the east side. Above the station there is a complex of buildings of the museum, which should also be briefly reported.

Museum Natural History (Natural History Museum)

Before us is the entrance to the museum building from the western side, to which there are exits from the station in both directions: to the 81st and 79th street. And if the northern exit (to 81st) is directed directly to the entrance to the museum, then from the south (leading to 79th street) it is possible to go directly to Central Park, take a walk but him or go through him. Of course, it is impossible to talk about the metro station located under the museum building without talking about the museum itself, founded in 1869 thanks to the efforts of a naturalist. Albert S. Bickmorewho managed to attract a number of large businessmen to its construction: Theodore Roosevelt (senior), Jonah Morganand, Morris Jesupand others. Initially, the museum collection, which consisted only of stuffed animals and skeletons of animals, was located in the building Arsenal on the territory of the park. But in 1877 a new building was built on the western border of the park.

Today, this largest natural history museum in the world is a complex of 25 interconnected buildings housing 46 permanent exhibitions, research laboratories, a planetarium and a famous library. The museum's collection contains more than 32 million specimens of plants, animals, fossils, minerals, stones, meteorites, human remains and cultural artifacts. Its research staff consists of more than 225 people. The museum constantly updates its expositions, expands, and at the same time finances about 120 field expeditions a year. Every year it is visited by an average of about five million people.

On the subject: Museum streets: places in New York that fascinate with beauty and history

The main exhibition of the Museum of Natural History in New York is divided into six huge halls, each of which presents a specific theme:

1. Human Origins. Here are all the exhibits relating to the origin and development of man on our planet. The most famous of them is the skeleton, which is over 3,2 million years old. And the one on our left is probably sitting thinking about how many more years he will have to get to Rodin's The Thinker.

2. Gems. Here the visitor will see at least 100 precious stones of natural origin, incl. largest sizes in the world. The rarest among them is the topaz "Princess", which is the largest topaz in the world.

И Section 3 - Minerals. They are placed here in glass containers and put on public display.

4. Fossils. Here are the skeletons of animals that lived on the planet several thousand years ago. All exhibits were collected during numerous expeditions to the farthest points of the planet. This hall, located on the fourth floor, is remembered for its unusualness - after all, it is here that the skeletons of a mammoth and a dinosaur are located, which are more than 11 thousand years old, as well as a unique skeleton of an apatosaurus. Near There is a small cinema hall where you can watch a film about the history of the origin of giant "ancient lizards" in the dinosaur rooms.

5. Meteorites. In this room there is an opportunity to view exhibits that arrived directly from space. It is impossible to ignore this amazing collection of rare meteorites. The clearest example is considered to be a particle called "Cape York" from Greenland.

6. Life of the oceans. Individual exhibits in this hall of the museum reach an age of five billion years. All this time they were in the oceans. Visitors to the hall have the opportunity to watch documentaries on the origin of life in water on a huge screen. The most incredible highlight here is the “blue whale” model located under the dome, commensurate with its real dimensions.

But... among all this beauty and the immense variety of exhibits, magnificently executed dioramas have a bewitching effect. The incredibly complex collective work of a large creative team of specialists in various specialties creates an absolutely incredible effect of real presence in various parts of the planet, at different times of the day and year, in the life scenes of various groups of animals or people unfolding before our eyes. Children are ready to sit in front of them for hours, waiting for the completion of their walk, rest or fight.

They are shepherds at work.

Family of Zambar marsh deer.

Birds at an unexpected meal.

Family of Indonesian bulls.

And here are the elephants turning around at the crossing, watching where the museum visitors are in a hurry. Most likely, to a modern IMAX cinema, where popular science films are shown on the big screen for them. Since 2014, it has become possible to see "Secrets of the Invisible World" in digital 3D and in 2D film. Or to the Planetarium - a six-story glass building with a "floating" roof in the form of a huge sphere, like a "space cathedral" erected here in 2000.

Here, visitors are shown sessions of a multimedia installation that reproduces the process of the formation of the Universe as a result of the Big Bang. The construction work associated with these facilities has given a new impetus to the development of the entire complex. But, by the time they were completed, it was also decided to reconstruct the metro station bearing the name of the museum, with significant changes to its interior.

It was not at all an ordinary task that required a special approach. The fact is that traditionally, work to improve the interior design of metro stations was carried out in accordance with the requirements of a special program of its management - MTA Arts & Design and paid as a percentage of the cost of construction. When the metro management determined the object of work, the usual competition was announced to create a work that could ennoble the chosen station. And then a special commission of five people, which included two representatives of the transport authorities and three specialists in the field of arts, considered the submitted applications and determined the name of the winner. But here the situation was quite different. The management of the museum, which considers the metro station below it a part of their living space, did not imagine that any abstract idea that was not directly related to the museum could be used to design it.

This is like the phrase that Stanislavsky launched into theatrical use that "the theater begins with a hanger." Its meaning was, on the one hand, that the theater is impossible without a hanger: after all, one cannot sit at a performance in outerwear, and on the other hand, that the visitor should already be aware at the entrance that he enters a special sublime world of art. It is the same here: for most visitors, the metro is the main means of transport to reach the Museum, and therefore the atmosphere of its station should correspond to their expectation of meeting with the beautiful. That is why it was decided to work together on the project by the combined forces of the Museum and MTA Arts & Design specialists. From the latter side, the project was attended by Sandra Bloodworth, an artist who is the director of MTA Arts & Design, Kendal Henry, Mona Chen and mosaic master Stephen Miotto. And a large group of museum specialists. However, no names were given as authors.

Since the depiction of birds, fish, or animals had to be scientifically based and, therefore, handed over by museum workers from their archives, their reproduction could not be considered a full-fledged creative work of a particular artist. Dinosaur CastMTA Chairman Conway commented: “This station refurbishment is an example of a great partnership between the public and private sectors, and we have achieved our shared goal of creating an art project that starts working and impresses visitors from the moment they get off. from the train." To achieve this effect, this creative team has done a lot of hard work. It was necessary to start with the development of the main concept of the whole work and its motto. Ultimately, it was defined as

"For Want of a Nail" multimedia installation at 81 Street Subway Station - Museum of Natural History"

This popular expression, translated as "For lack of a nail," is the first line of an old parable that speaks of universal interconnection, the meaning of which is that even the most insignificant actions or changes can lead to very serious and unforeseen consequences in the future. It is well known to Americans from a poem by Benjamin Franklin published in Poor Richards Almanack in 1758.

And Russian-speaking readers know the version of this poem from Marshak's translations:

“There was no nail - the horseshoe was gone

There was no horseshoe - the horse limped.

The horse limped - the commander was killed.

The cavalry is broken. The army is running.

The enemy enters the city, not sparing the captives,

Because there was no nail in the forge.

Now that the general direction had already been determined, it was possible to outline the main ways in the implementation of the installation. First of all, they took up the design of the stairwells, where the designers tried to realize the idea that the museum's exposition is comprehensive, and applies to absolutely all corners of the planet. A direct analogy to this is the history of the creation of the logo of the famous automobile company - Mercedes, which at the dawn of its existence also produced motors. Its three-pointed, or three-fingered sign pointed to the sky with its upper end, and the earth and water with its two lower ones. Showing by this that their motors are applicable everywhere. The same is true here: we are shown that the museum pets live in all the elements: in the sky, in water and on land. But the most beautiful mosaic of them (created by Miotto Mosaic Art Studios) shows us the beauty of the world's oceans.

This blue, illuminated by lamps, mosaic, along which sharks rushed along the stairs, into its depths along the walls, who still do not know what awaits them there.

And this, on the opposite side, is already clearly visible amazingly beautiful picture of the ocean floor.

Here, at its depth, the flat mosaic image changed to 2D and XNUMXD. The sculptor worked especially hard on this Margie Hagtowho did all the ceramic work. These plants, flocks of small fish, octopus and starfish are so picturesque and brightly executed that they cause admiration and a desire to stay here longer, but ... the Earth is already waiting for us ahead.

But not the way we are used to seeing it in our time, but the ancient one at the time of its formation. Visitors to the museum planetarium have already had the opportunity to learn about this from an amazing and memorable performance. And here, far below, in the corner, we see the crater of the volcano, and fiery lava.

And here, already time marks its run with layers of stratifications in its thickness.

And before proceeding to the consideration of the final stage of this "trilogy" - to the "vault of heaven", we are shown through thick clouds the moment of the formation of continents on earth.

And here is the eternal "Sky" at the next staircase, with its large and small planets, the solar system and stars, which, if lit, then "someone needs it."

Continuing the theme of eternity, let's go to the lower floor, as if into deep caves and dungeons, where numerous researchers slowly and meticulously extract the skeletons of long-gone animals from their depths.

These are copies of the fossils of prehistoric animals, the originals of which can be seen in the halls of the museum.

In this, or...

... in this form.

As another kind of guide to the museum, along the edges of the platforms there are many pictograms depicting museum exhibits.

Now, having risen to the upper tier, we will freeze there in indecision. Not from the variety of colors, but from the unusualness of the image. The fact is that according to the concept of the installation (always remember the nail), here we are reminded of the evolution of existence through real examples. On each pair depicted here, creatures (both living and extinct) are represented, whose status is represented by their color. Live animals can be recognized by their full color images. Meanwhile, as extinct animals, i.e. their forerunners are shown in grey. Let's say Diplodocus is depicted here (the largest of the dinosaurs known from complete skeletons and lived 150-147 million years ago), and a modern snake.

And this is Indricotherium (a hornless rhinoceros that lived 30-20 million years ago) and a large red kangaroo.

Smilodon (a saber-toothed cat that lived 2,5 million - 10 thousand years ago), formerly an intatherium (a detachment of dinocerates, lived 45-40 million years ago). The dinocerates were among the first large mammals to appear after the extinction of the dinosaurs. Nearby is a leopard and in the distance - an armadillo (armadillo).

Mammoth (lived 4,8 million - 4500 years ago), and in color - elephant and wild boar.

Sea cow (exterminated by the end of the XNUMXth century), and modern ducks, lemurs and owls.

Migratory pigeon (extinct by 1914) and crested quail.

The lobe-finned fish (lived in the ocean as early as 360 million years ago, and was thought to have completely died out 80 million years ago) and the tree frog.

There is one curious feature of this exposition. Despite the separation of fossils and living individuals here, for a number of reasons, the existence of the latter is often also under threat. In their image, we see a question mark applied, as a message that their population is in danger. And from it we can try to determine: is there a sign of alarm on the depicted figure, and where? Here we have the Galapagos giant tortoise - a species of land turtles with Galapagos Islands, which is endangered. The badge is printed on the back next to the tail.

And this is Latimeria (the habitat of Grand Comore), the population of which is 300-400 individuals. Now the situation of the Comorian coelacanth species is assessed as critical. That's why there is a question mark on the back.

Photo: IStock

But we will return to unraveling it when we finally say goodbye to the museum. It remains for us to take farewell photos here at the exit and it will be possible to go to the subway. A modern photograph of this building can be seen at the beginning of the article, and here is an old one, which still shows a monument to the 26th US President Theodore Roosevelt, who in 2020 against the backdrop of pogroms and protests (which took place in the USA after the death, from police actions, of black George Floyd) was dismantled and placed in storage. Prior to placing it in the Roosevelt Library under construction in Medora (North Dakota). But four sculptures, placed at the top of the parapet consoles, have been preserved. We can clearly see two of them now. Before us are the sculptures of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, the pioneers who described the flora and fauna of the American West. By the way, they were also among the heroes of the legendary series about this museum “Night at the Museum”. And on the opposite side of the entrance, you can see the sculptures of Daniel Boone, a folk hero and pioneer in Kentucky, next to John James Audubon, an ornithologist and documentary filmmaker, author of Birds of America.

Now it's time for us to get on the train. And now the helpful ants, lined up in a row, show us the way to the metro platforms.

And the lizard has already lifted its head to say goodbye to us with a nod.

And even the obliging whale, burying its head in the platform to listen to the clatter of the wheels of the approaching train, waves its tail to us goodbye. He is sure that we will visit here again and again. Come, come, he kindly waves to us. See you soon. Moreover, soon (they promise that this year), when the new buildings open their doors, anyway, you will have to come here again. Of course, by subway train. After all, now you already know that you need to get off at the 81 Street - Museum of Natural History station. See you soon!

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