Pub quiz time: what’s the world’s longest art gallery? No need to Google the length of the Louvre: Stockholm claims its entire metro network is actually an art exhibition.
Sure, Moscow’s subway system is architecturally stunning, but it’s not really art. But the vast majority of the 100 stations on Stockholm’s metro system contain works by one or more artists. The first were installed in 1957, just seven years after the first ‘proper’ subway line opened between Slussen and Hökarängen.
Which is lovely, of course, but also… why?
Part of it is Scandinavian egalitarianism, and a longstanding debate over making art accessible to your average Swede. But there’s also a wayfinding element: of making each station distinct from each other. This is very handy if you’re distracted, lost track of where you are and need to leap out: much better than craning to spot a sign on the Northern line.
To put it another way, there’s no way you’re going to not realise you’re at Solna Centrum.
Art by Karl-Olav Björk, Anders Åberg, 1975.
As with many public art projects, not all of it has aged well. The wavy neon stripes at Hötorget look like the 1980s swallowed the Arena opening titles and vomited them back out onto the station ceiling – which makes the fact it was installed in 1998 all the more perplexing.
Anyone else got Another Green World by Brian Eno as an earworm? Art by Gun Gordillo, 1998.
Similarly, the wayfinding principle isn’t always successful. For instance, at Sockenplan the art is a small-ish sculpture in the middle of the platform. Good luck spotting it if you’re at either end of the train.
These are, however, mere niggles. The Stockholm Metro is a delight to explore. You can download a guide and poke about yourself, or if you’re there in summer go on one of the free English language Art Walks offered several times a week. (Swedish speakers can do this year round.)
A few of the joys on offer...
If I lived in Stockholm I’d do my damndest to live near Tensta station, and start my morning commute waiting for the train by these penguins. Because penguins.
Art by Helga Henschen, 1975.
And a close-up of the walrus, in case you missed it. Every day should involve this walrus.
Look at its little face. Art by Helga Henschen, 1975.
There are more penguins at Aspudden. More penguins in Metro systems, please.
By now you’ve probably noticed a certain rocky appearance to the underground stations. During the 1970s, Stockholm decided to spray concrete over the dug-out station box instead of plain old cladding them. Not only was it cheaper, it gives this cool, cavern-like effect. It’s been put to rather good use at Tekniska Högskolan.
Art by Lennart Mörk, 1973.
This would be a cheery sight at Högdalen on a miserable, grey, freezing Scandinavian morning.
Art by Birgitta Muhr, 2002.
And in case you were wondering if there’s any, you know, real art in this system, here’s Östermalmtorg.
Art by Siri Derkert, 1965.
Above ground, there’s some serious retro action going on at Thorildsplan.
Art by Lars Arrhenius, 2008.
All photos courtesy of the author.