By: Terry Ward
Ah, Stockholm. Easily among the world’s prettiest ports of call – not to mention one of the most architecturally impressive of all the European capitals. A quick stopover in the city is long enough to give you a taste of the fascinating art along the T-bana.
Once you’ve checked the typical (and well worth it) tourist boxes – hopping ferries between the museum island of Djurgården and the preserved Medieval streets of Gamla Stan and lunching in the sophisticated market at the Östermalms Saluhall, – it’s time to head underground for a most unexpected world of art within the city’s subway system, called the T-bana.
While riding the metro is merely a way to get from point A to point B in most cities, the Stockholm T-bana is a visual delight. Stretching along nearly 70 miles of tracks, some 94 of the metro’s 100 stations are decorated with permanent art exhibitions dating from the 1950s, 60s and 70s, as well as a few temporary installations. In total there are works by roughly 150 predominantly Swedish artists. And the best part? The price to admire it all is merely the fare for your day’s subway travels.
Instead of concrete walls guiding you down into an underground world of rails and rumbling trains, Stockholm’s subway stations are filled with mosaics, paintings and sculptures, many with political themes that turn tunnels and escalators into move-through galleries.
At Stockholm’s main train station, T-Centralen, which opened in 1957 and sees more than 167,000 riders pass through each day, the upper platform is the most interesting. “This is where everything started and the art on the track walls, the pillars and the benches is the result of a competition among artists held in 1956,” says Marie Andersson, a freelance tour guide who leads Stockholm city art tours.
At the T-Centralen platform for the blue line – the newest subway line that opened in 1975 – artist Per-Olof Ultvedt “aimed to create a feeling, not to tell a story,” explains Andersson. And you can definitely feel how his infusions of blue hues and graphic elements carve a space of calm and relaxation in the busy transportation hub.
One of the most beautiful exhibitions of the city’s underground is at Kungsträdgården station, where a kaleidoscope-colored installation by Ulrik Samuelson includes large stripes painted across the platform and an eerie gargoyle-like sculpture leering from the wall. The archeological dig display here has objects from Sweden’s National Art Museums collection that include 18th century marble columns and old gas lamps that once lit up the city streets.
There’s Rådhuset station’s pink cave decorated with architectural finds from different periods of local history and Stadshagen station, with its painted aluminum sheets made with panels that shift shapes to display Swedish sports images on the wall above the tracks. And at Solna Centrum station a red and green cave painted in 1975 by Anders Åberg and Karl-Olov Björk depicts images of Nordic wildlife and pristine landscapes that deliver a strong 1970s environmental message. When you pop into Rissne station you’ll be ensconced in a white cave where a written timeline transports you from the era of Egypt’s pyramids to modern times.
“Every stop on the blue line is worth visiting,” says Andersson.
It’s fun, fascinating and energizing (when’s the last time you said that about public transport?), and it’s easy to get lost in the fantasy world of the art. But the bustling crowds around you are a constant reminder of the true function of the spaces.
- From June through August on Tue., Thu. and Sat. at 3 p.m., SL (Stockholm Public Transport) runs free guided tours of the metro art. The meeting point is at T-Centralen in the SL Center in the ticket hall. You’ll only pay the price of your ticket to take part. Click for the official subway map.
- Konstvandringar Stockholm offers art walks that feature public art, architecture and culture. The tour company also offers an hour-long tour in English of the subway art several times a week during the summer months.