Art goes underground

At the recent opening of an exhibition entitled "Arts on the Line," 20 artists unveiled their proposals for the aesthetic enhancement of four new subway stations currently under construction in the Boston area as the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority extends one of its lines northwest through Cambridge to Arlington. The project, developed by the Cambridge Arts Council and funded principally by the US Department of Transportation, is scheduled for completion in 1983. The exhibition, which includes photographs, architectural models, preliminary sketches, and samples of sculpture and tilework, will remain on display at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Hayden Gallery through March 16.

Of course, even when all these works reach fruition, there is no guarantee that the trains or the buses will, as a result, run any nearer scheduled. On the other hand, waiting will be more endurable in the presence of artwork that will become a veritable cynosure for public art projects of this kind nationwide.

Mrs. Joan Mondale, who spoke at the opening, emphasized that "Arts on the Line" represents a new context for contemporary art, one that offers viewers an opportunity to encounter art outside the traditional confines of museums and galleries. In reference to the startling variety of artwork the project promises, she observes that "we may be amused, confused, or touched by it, but it will be ours."

Indeed, "Arts on the Line" may prove one of those rare instances where public art actually succeeds in reaching and engaging the large audience for which it was intended. An insistence upon neighborhood-related artwork will probably, in large measure, ensure its effectiveness.

Nancy Webb, for example, studied the flora and fauna of the Alewife Reservation, near the Arlington terminus, before submitting her designs for bronze floor tiles. The tiles will depict local species of frogs, birds, snakes , and fish. "In the Renaissance," she offered, "one worked for the glory of the state; I like to think my work will be for the glory of Cambridge."

Other works that will grace the Alewife Station and garage include David Davison's softly hued, abstract wall tiles and Joel Janowitz's sinuous sculpted benches. Richard Fleischner will base a portion of the station's landscaping on the ruins of the Toltec Tulla Palace in central Mexico, while Stephen Antonako's neon sculpture, a series of brightly colored dashes, curves, and angles, will run the length of the platform.

For the redesigned Harvard Square station, Dimitri Hadzi, a sculptor whose assertive "Thermopylae" stands in Government Center in downtown Boston, promises a piece that will attempt to employ "found" materials is resulting from present construction in the area. Ann Norton will provide a monumental brick "gateway" for Brattle Square.

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