Inside Stockholm’s Insanely Good Subway Art

Wednesday May 09, 2018 Written by Sam Wilson

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Image: Ed Webster, Flickr CC

Train travel in a big city is rarely what you’d call an uplifting experience. If your train’s not delayed or cancelled, there’s the claustrophobic indignity of the commuter crush to endure, or some weirdo next to you chowing down on greasy takeaway chicken.

Unless you’re in Stockholm, Sweden, that is – where the city’s 110km subway system (or tunnelbana) doubles as the world’s longest art gallery. Since the 1950s, some 150 artists have created large-scale artworks in more than 90 of the subway’s 100 stations, resulting in a panoramic underground showcase of modern Scandinavian art. Best of all, the admission price is the cost of a train ticket.

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Image: Tony Webster, Flickr CC

The idea of putting art in the subway came about in the 1950s. Believing everyone should have access to art, rather than just the cultural elite, Sweden’s Social Democratic Party figured that Stockholm’s metro stations were the perfect place to make this happen. As all tunnelbana lines radiate out from T-Centralen, this bustling station was chosen as the first site for a public art overhaul. Starting with some truly cool mid-century modern mosaics, the station’s embellishments grew over the decades to include soothing blue plant motifs and painted silhouettes of station workers.

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Image: Tony Webster, Flickr CC

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Image: Graham C99, Flickr CC

To describe Kungsträdgarden, below, as baroque would be an understatement. As if its colourful patchwork ceiling wasn’t eye-catching enough to distract commuters from their workaday woes, its red-green-black-and-white tilework and strategically displayed archaeological relics certainly do the trick.

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Two images above: Arild, Flickr CC

Elsewhere, stations are transformed into cavelike grottoes, or sprout giant bronze tulips from their platforms, while radical feminist history, technology and the Olympics all get their respective moments in the subway spotlight. If only all train travel could be so artistically enriching.

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Image: Alex DROP, Flickr CC

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Two images above: Nigel Burgher, Flickr CC

View more photos of Stockholm’s unique subway stations.