Around Town Underground: Prints From The Collection Of Dave And Reba Williams

August 03, 2004
November 07, 2004

When the first segment of Gotham's subway system opened on October 27, 1904, most Manhattanites lived and worked below 14th Street, while the rest of the island remained thinly settled. The original line operated by the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) ran from City Hall to Grand Central Station, then West along 42nd Street to Times Square before continuing north to the Bronx. The urban landscape immediately began to change as the newly consolidated City grew outward, with the development of upper Manhattan and the Bronx, and upward as skyscrapers rose in downtown and midtown. For the first time New Yorkers were able to live in one neighborhood, commute to work elsewhere and travel about the city with ease.

Distance was overcome by speed. "City Hall to Harlem in fifteen minutes" the slogan promised. Reaching speeds of 40 miles per hour on its express lines, the new electric subway was three times as fast as the steam-powered elevated trains and six times as fast as electric street cars. A second line, the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Corporation (BRT), which later changed its name to the Brooklyn Manhattan Transit (BMT), was created in 1913. Both the IRT and BMT were publicly owned but privately operated. The municipal government owned and operated the IND line, which opened between 1932 and 1940. The city acquired the IRT and BMT lines at this time as well and unified all into a common network. This was the culminating phase of subway construction.

The urban metamorphosis taking place over the first half of the twentieth century provided visual artists with dramatic subject matter. City scenes began to outpace portraiture and landscapes as topics of choice. Printmaking was undergoing a renaissance at this time as well. While nineteenth-century printmakers were primarily focused on documentation, 20th-century printmakers felt freer to work in more stylized, expressionist and purely aesthetic modes. They experimented with new media and rediscovered methods such as lithography, screen printing, and woodcuts, primarily used for commercial purposes in the past. The New York City Graphics Division of the Works Progress Administration (1935–1943) facilitated the advancement of printing technology employing hundreds of artists during the depression. Most of the prints in this exhibition date from the 1920s to the 1950s.

Creative: Tronvig Group