Friday, March 26, 2010
I know this painting well from years of seeing it up close in Ralph’s studio in Ardsley. He painted it after several years of riding the subway at all hours and sketching people on pieces of newspaper. It summarizes the daily transience of the urban dweller, the temporary moment in every day when one retreats to a zone of solitude in one of the noisiest and most public spaces. The painting “Subway Riders” seems to embody the notion that people of all backgrounds and from all levels of society share these moments. The great paradox of the work is the aloneness of togetherness in the course of a working day.
Public art is a noble endeavor, but not without its challenges. On my recent visit, I noticed that although untold thousands of people must see this painting every day, very few probably actually look. My informal observation seemed to indicate that they are more interested in the subway map next to the painting case (art should be useful, right?) and in the horizontal shelf in front of the case, where they could put down their cell phone and write down a number or note to themselves. Sometimes I think that it’s better for a painting to be admired by hundreds than ignored by thousands.