Restoring a zoetrope in an old abandoned Brooklyn station

Read the original post in Second Avenue Sagas here.

Restoring a zoetrope in an old abandoned Brooklyn station

Published March 12th, 2007

Riders of the Manhattan-bound B and Q trains know there’s something out there. Shortly before the trains go above ground on the Manhattan Bridge, alert riders can spot a glimpse of…something. It’s not a solid tunnel wall; daylight streams through a series of slits in a temporary wall blocking whatever it is that’s there.

Well, that something is actually a very old and long-abandoned subway station. It is an old elevated subway stop at Myrtle Ave. that hasn’t seen passengers since July of 1956, over 50 years ago. While abandoned stations dot the subway system — and alert passengers on the East and West Side IRT trains know where to stop them — the Myrtle Ave. station is unique because it once served as the staging grounds for a work of art:

Two hundred twenty-five hand-painted panels sit behind those mysterious slits. When viewed properly and at the right speed, those panels form a picture. It’s a life-sized subway zoetrope.

But the Masstransiscope has fallen on hard times. Installed in the 1980s by filmmaker Bill Brand, the piece, as any astute rider may notice, is completely obscured by graffiti. Now, Brand wants to restore his zoetrope. Originally installed at a price tag of $60,000 and through the aid of the NEA and the New York state Council on the Arts, Brand estimates it could cost up to $40,000 to restore it, and the MTA’s Arts for Transit program can’t cover the restoration costs.

“Around 1990, we fixed it up,” said Sandra Bloodworth, director of the MTA’s Arts for Transit program. At that time only the light bulbs needed to be replaced, and the MTA received a donation of bulbs. Now, however, the electrical work needs to be entirely redone. Arts for Transit isn’t willing to shell out the estimated $35,000-$40,000 for restoration.

“I need to produce works that will be here 30 or 40 years with that kind of money,” Bloodworth said. Masstransiscope, she added, “gets damaged so quickly. It gets painted over with break-ins.”

While twenty years ago, Brand convinced graffiti artists to tag elsewhere simply by asking nicely, times have changed. Graffiti in the subways is no longer about the art of graffiti; instead, it’s about tagging a name on as much MTA property as possible. And Brand knows he would face an uphill battle to keep the Masstransiscope viewable.

The MTA will coordinate the restoration. Now, Brand just has to raise some money to restore an interesting work of art that would lend some color to an otherwise sluggish ride from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

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{A VERY LATE} UPDATE:  The zoetrope is definitely back up and running and looks fantastic.  To see the work, head out to the Dekalb station in Brooklyn.  You can get there via the Q, R or B trains.  Then, get on a Q train going back into Manhattan.  Can’t be any other train.  Facing the front of the train, you’ll be able to see the zoetrope out of the right-hand windows.  There’s an article in the New York Times on the work which I FINALLY posted about here.

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