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Subway Map Floating on a New York Sidewalk 1986

by Francoise Schein, 1953

“Subway Map Floating on a NY Sidewalk” by Francoise Schein intertwines the past and the present in its circuitous depiction of Manhattan subways. Prior to the city taking over transit in the 1940s, the lines were run by private companies. Transit history buffs are familiar with Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT), which built what we currently know as the 1,2,3 and 4,5,6 routes. Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit (BMT) covered parts of Brooklyn and lower Manhattan, including what we know today as the L. And the Independent Subway (IND) came along in the 1920s and built what we now know as the A/C and B/D routes running along 8th and 6th Avenues, respectively.

In this piece, Francoise blends aspects of all of these networks with today’s system to produce a map that—while not useful to the average straphanger—contains a history of the city hidden in each of its stainless steel bars and illuminated glass circles.

Additionally, her works all carry a theme of human rights. This one, commissioned in 1985 by Tony Goldman of Goldman Properties and spanning 90 feet x 12 feet, represents that the subway is the ultimate democratic place to reach the people. Following this work, Francoise went on to create a piece for the Concorde station in Paris that contains the entire text of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man on tiles around the interior.

She even founded a nonprofit that creates art and events around Europe to start discussions on human rights principles and cultural diversity. As she explains: “I have come to see cities and villages as living beings who tell stories of the lives that have crossed through and in them, thereby leaving indelible marks on the successive strata of the city’s foundations. My projects pay homage to that reality.”


1986 Installed by Francoise Schein

Reference Links

tidbit Tony Goldman
link Subway Map Floating on a New York Sidewalk
link SoHo Landmarks
internal gDoc

Talking Points

  • commissioned by Tony Goldman with a $30k grant
  • not a map to be used to navigate the city, artistic liberties
  • Schein interested in the intersection of urban society
  • Place de la Concorde station in Paris: tiles with letters that spell out the declaration of human rights
  • think about
    • vertical living, horizontal transportation & the intersection of the two
    • transportation as vains of a city
    • crossing and meeting places of people

Ken Rock Sculpture

  • ken japanese artist, continuous line, carved into rocks
  • came to new york to escape the rigid japanese art system
  • more on ken next