Best Art You Can See for the Cost of a MetroCard Swipe

Nick Cave's “Each One, Every One, Equal All,” is a stunning subway art installation in one of the city's busiest stations.
Nick Cave's “Each One, Every One, Equal All,” is a stunning subway art installation in one of the city's busiest stations.
5/7/24 - By Jordana Drell Herman

I love the subway. It’s one of the best parts of living in New York. You won’t convince me otherwise. For the cost of a MetroCard swipe, I can give my children a world of experiences—including viewing a collection of impressive NYC subway art!

When my children were little, they loved looking out the train windows. As they got older, reading the ads delighted them. Now, we revel in the stations themselves for their wealth of free subway art, culture, and conversation. So, next time you swipe your MetroCard, take note: We've rounded up the best NYC subway art to see with kids below. Of course, if you're searching for a more traditional art gallery experience, we've got tons of kid-friendly picks in our NYC Kids Guide to Museums, Galleries, and Exhibits.


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Best Subway Art in Manhattan

Manhattan has an overwhelming amount of art in its subway stations. These are just a few pieces of NYC subway art my children ask to see whenever we board the subway.

1. 86th Street Station – 4/5/6 Lines

“Happy City,” by Peter Sis, 2004

Sis is a Czech-born artist who is better known as a children’s book author. You have probably read, "Madelenka," about a little girl and her neighbors on a city block. His book entitled "Tibet Through the Red Box" was a Caldecott Honor winner in 1999.

“Happy City,” is comprised of four large, etched, stone and mosaic eyes. The pupils and eyelashes are comprised of buildings from the neighborhood including such landmarks as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Museum. Your child will delight in recognizing the usage of these images in a new way as well as the flying animals that decorate the whites of the eyes. Sis wanted the viewer to see the city as a magical, happy place to raise children.

RELATED: 23 Secret Spots in NYC Kids Love

Subway art in NYC: William Wegman's Stationary Figures
William Wegman uses his dogs as muses in "Stationary Figures."

2. 23rd Street Station – F/M Lines

"Stationary Figures," by William Wegman, 2018

Wegman is renowned for his series of photographs featuring Weimaraner dogs, often dressed in human clothing and placed in various settings. If you are visiting Eataly, the Lego Store, Camp, Harry Potter New York, or the rest of the fun things to do in the Flatiron District, don’t forget to stop and admire this series of colorful, larger-than-life mosaics. Featuring Wegman's beloved Weimaraner dogs, Flo and Topper. The pieces originated as photographs by the artist, who lives nearby, and were transformed into tile murals by Mayer of Munich, a German mosaic and glass workshop. Wegman composed the pieces so that Flo and Topper would resemble typical subway commuters, positioned to look as if standing on a crowded platform. As is typical of Wegman’s work, the dogs wear human clothes, including a plaid flannel shirt and a black zippered jacket.

3. 14th Street Station – A/C/E Lines

"Life Underground," by Tom Otterness, 2000

This is my family’s favorite subway art installation and I know from talking to others that many families feel the same way. It’s probably already caught your family's attention, too! There are approximately 25 adorable characters scattered through the 14th Street and 8th Avenue Station between the A/C/E platforms and the L train. Larger sculptures include an alligator coming out of a manhole cover biting a man with a money bag head, playing on New Yorker’s collective sense of wonder and fear of the world below the streets. Smaller sculptures include a fare beater sneaking under a barrier and a police officer waiting on the other side to catch it. These diminutive sculptures are adorable and walk the line between law-abiding and lawlessness—sort of like my children (and possibly yours, too!)

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Subway art in NYC: Leo Villareal’s Hive LED
Turn your eyes to the sky to see Leo Villareal’s "Hive" at the Bleeker/Broadway Lafayette station.

4. Bleeker/Broadway/Lafayette – B/D/F/6 Lines

"Hive," by Leo Villareal, 2012

When switching from the B/D/F trains at the Broadway/Lafayette Station to the 6 train via the escalator, look skyward to reveal a wonderful light show above you. Villareal’s "Hive" LED installation enthralls kids of all ages. You can follow one color as it moves snake-like through the LED tubes or watch the entire sculpture gently change color. Like many NYC subway art installations, "Hive" evokes the interconnectedness of the city itself.

5. 42nd Street Times Square – 1/2/3/7/N/Q/R/W/S Lines

“Each One, Every One, Equal All,” by Nick Cave, 2022

Located in the transfer corridor between the renovated Times Square Shuttle platform and the B/D/F/M Sixth Avenue station at 42nd Street-Bryant Park, find this installation from Cave. Best known for his Soundsuits, wearable sculptures, which reference African ceremonial costumes, plus masks, armor, couture fashion, and carnival, Cave’s elaborate sculptures are constructed from everyday objects and found materials such as colored hair, crocheted doilies, buttons, beads, fabric, raffia, twigs, toys, and trinkets.

This mosaic installation evokes the movement of those sculptures and the color, movement, and kinetic energy of Times Square.

RELATED: Best Children's Museums and Family-Friendly Museums in NYC

NYC subway art: Ausby’s A Space Odyssey
The Marcy Avenue JMZ station is home to Ellsworth Ausby’s "A Space Odyssey."

Cool NYC Subway Art in Brooklyn

6. Marcy Avenue – J/M/Z Lines

"A Space Odyssey," by Ellsworth Ausby, 2005

If you are going to the fun-filled Williamsburg neighborhood for a burger at Peter Luger’s or to visit the stunning Domino Park, make sure you take a moment to appreciate Ausby’s "A Space Odyssey" at the Marcy Avenue Station. Ausby created eight triptychs for the station's platform windscreens. The designs are meant to explore the relationship of man to the universe, but kids love the swirling colors. They’re particularly lovely in the afternoon when the sun shines through them. Each triptych has shapes evoking the rays of the sun, the rings of Saturn, and the moons of Jupiter.

7. Halsey Street – J Line

"SOL’SCRYPT," by Sol'Sax, 2008

Sol’sax is a Brooklyn native who combines images from African and African-American culture with contemporary Brooklyn pop culture. These faceted glass panels combine images of city life with symbols of ancient African cultural influences. The swirly snail shells and rainbow layers of a bridge catch kids' eyes.

More Great Subway Art in Queens and the Bronx

8. Court Square/23rd Street Ely Avenue – G/E/M Lines

"Stream," by Elizabeth Murray, 2001

Long walking transfers always generate a big g-r-o-a-n from my children. Murray’s vibrantly colored mosaics help transform the transfer from the G to E/M at Court Square into an adventure akin to following the candy path in Candy Land. Follow along the long orange curving form, dodge the rainstorm in the middle of the passway, and continue onto your next train.

9. 167th Street – 4 Line

"A Bronx Reflection," by Carol Sun, 2006

If you are on your way to Yankee Stadium, take a moment to go one stop further to see Sun’s faced glass windows along the east walkway of the station. These windows portray the past, present, and future. Children recognize and relate to many of the images they know from their own life—school buses, basketball games, and dogs in the park. Sun is a Bronx native.

10. 167th Street – B/D Lines

"Beacons," by Rico Gatson, 2019

The eight mosaics that comprise “Beacons,” were sourced from photographs and translated into glass mosaics by Miotto Mosaic Studios. They feature individuals who have been influential in the Bronx for their cultural, political, and artistic contributions. The eight figures highlighted are Gil Scott-Heron, Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Reggie Jackson, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor. The black and white portraits are framed with brightly colored lines radiating from behind each figure like rays of light. Your child might not recognize the historical figures, so tell them who each figure is and their claims to fame.

Tips for Talking About NYC Subway Art with Kids

When encountering these pieces of subway art, and other art in the world, ask your child open-ended questions to get the conversation flowing. Here are some examples:

  • Why do you think the artist named this artwork with this title?
  • What do you see in the picture?
  • What makes you happy in this artwork?
  • Why do you think the artist wanted to make this subway art?
  • Is this a sculpture or a picture? What makes it so?
  • What do you recognize in this art from your own life?

Looking for more subway art to explore? The MTA maintains a full listing of its art installations, so grab your MetroCard and start exploring. 

All photos by author