Glenn Gissler - Blog - 2014 - Subway B&W


The New York City subway system of 2014 can be a remarkably efficient way to get around the city; however even in recent history this was not necessarily the case.

When I first visited New York City as a young adult in 1976 I stayed in Times Square with my brother and a bunch of art students from the Midwest – it was thrilling!

My eyes bugged out of my head ….

…with so much visual stimulation! I became a regular visitor until I moved to New York City in the early 1984.  At that point the city was in pretty rough shape, and traveling by subway was unpredictable, dirty, often uncomfortable and creepy during the day and scary at night – but that didn’t stop me!

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For many years the NYC MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority) has been improving this enormous and sprawling underground transit system’s infrastructure with great success; many stations have been renovated, all of the stations are cleaner, well-lit, have security cameras, riders can understand announcements, etc.

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Thank you MTA!


In this and future posts, I will focus on one of the great benefits for riders in this upgraded system – permanent art installations by a long list of contemporary artists have been integrated in the renovated stations.

In recent underground travels I once again saw Jane Dickson‘s enormous Time Square Station installation The Revelers”, 2007 .

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I had not seen “The Reveler’s” in quite some time, and once again took great pleasure in Dickson’s depiction of people wearing funny hats, blowing toy horns and wielding noise makers; and some who seem to be stumbling from apparent intoxication who come each New Years Eve to watch the ball drop in Times Square.

I have watched the ball drop in Times Square most of my life, always from television, and most recently along with literally hundreds of millions of others around the world watched the nearly one million people (aka “revelers’) celebrate the start of a New Year.

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However, it was at a recent exhibition called “City Nights” at PROJECTOR gallery on the Lower East Side of 1980’s paintings and works on paper by Jane Dickson that had me look back, and reconsider this era, and the “Revelers” newly.

Artist Jane Dickson has been observing the streets of New York City for decades – and is known for the paintings and drawings she created reflecting what she saw while living in Times Square during the 1980’s.

Glenn Gissler - Blog - 2014 - Jane Dickson, Mardi Gras - 8th Ave., 1983, oilstick on canvas, 18 x 16 inches

While some have described Dickson’s work as “social realism”, Glenn O’Brien wrote about her works of this era:

“Dickson’s transcendental reportage updates realism with the full-blown post-modern spectrum of artificial light. The sun never intrudes on Dickson’s pictures. This is a world of endless night, where black light is the beacon of the black hole of desire.”

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Jane Dickson “Paradise Alley” 1982. oil on linenThe Times Square Dickson painted was MUCH different from what exists today: It was seedy, unsafe at night, and one was more likely to see XXX theaters than new releases from the Disney Studios. It had an exotic and dangerous character that was the opposite of my roots in the mid-west with miles of flashing neon, mediocre delicatessens, card sharks, hucksters, pimps, indigents, evangelists; and it was dirty, real dirty.



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I moved to New York City during the 1980’s – when many parts of the city were burned out, and still reeling as a city that nearly went bankrupt. I just assumed that it would always be rough and ready. I am amazed at what has happened and mourn the loss of some of the edge that I knew – the city in many ways has been cleansed, and not all of the changes are for the better.

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Today, and every day of the year, rain or shine, the cleaned-up Times Square is flooded with tourists from around the globe who descend upon the streets sporting tourist gear, taking photos of each other and the sites and lights with their camera phones; and while they may not be wearing funny hats and carrying noise makers, for me they are the revelers depicted in the mosaics.

The once annual New Year’s Eve revelers, have become the daily revelers, often arriving on double-decker buses.

And while I think that too much cleanser has been used on the city at great cost to the creative life of the city – I still find Times Square a thrill – especially at night!