October 27, 2017
Julian Joseph (1882-1964), Subway Scene, 1947, oil on canvas, 20 1/8 x 24 5/16 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of George R. Nicholson, 1976.
At 2:35 in the afternoon of Oct. 27, 1904, the first New York City Subway line began operation. Easing traffic above ground, the underground subway has grown over the decades and has increasingly become associated with our image of the fast-paced lifestyle of New York City. Many artists have been attracted to images of mass transit, seeking to capture the mundane, yet poignant, moments of everyday life. In 1947, American artist Julian Joseph (1882-1964) painted a New York Subway scene, which is part of the MOA permanent collection and is currently on view in the exhibition Shaping America.
Joseph’s painting portrays the subterranean world of the New York subway where people of mixed classes, races, and ethnicities sit side by side. Their detached engagement suggests the impossibility of their social interaction in above-ground New York City. None of the figures interact with fellow passengers, preferring to read privately or turn their thoughts inward, perhaps reminding us of our own behaviors in places crowded with strangers. Together, the middle-class white woman, the black man, and the white working class man, likely of immigrant stock, represent the diverse population of 1940s New York.