From the Issue: The Rail Riders’ Throne
Written by Bwog Staff
Keep your eyes open for the September issue of The Blue & White, coming soon to campus. Until then, Bwog will honor our heritage/amorous affair with our mother magazine by posting highlights of the upcoming issue online. Among the treats to look forward to: a litany of bizarre and outdated freshman hazing rituals, a conversation with a luminary on DIY education, and a (half-fictional) account of romance in the John Jay dining hall. In Bluenotes, the staff picks out tiny and seemingly mundane, but slightly odd, pieces of Columbian life … and explores their oddities. This month, contributor Anna Bahr explores that funky chair in the 116th subway station.
What function does the metal throne in the 116th Street station serve? Does it extend beyond its venerated role of crowning the Facebook profile pictures of countless nubile Columbians, eager to broadcast the fact that THEY’RE IN THE BIG APPLE? Their duck-faced poses on the angular welded chair right under the blue tiled Columbia University sign behind them boasts to their high school friends, “Ivy League, bitches!” before they come to the unfortunate realization that they, in fact, are not all that.
The chair was commissioned in 1991 after artist and current New School and New York Institute of Technology professor Michelle Greene won a competition in the “Arts For Transit” MTA program. The sculptor titled her piece “The Rail Riders’ Throne,” and chose to place it beneath the Columbia sign.
Considering that the “Throne” looks like it could survive a nuclear winter unscathed (the artist sprayed polyurethane over it to ensure effective immortality), it’s ironic that it was originally designed as a transient piece of underground eye-candy. The sculpture was affixed permanently after popularity overrode its planned one-year stint.
Physically, the throne is aggressively cut, all straight lines, but also somewhat whimsical: the throne of a Dr. Seuss dictator. The MTA describes the linked squares that make up its head as “introducing humor into the station.”
Yet the real humor of the chair is its failure to merge art and functionality. One of the only seats in the station, it is offensively uncomfortable and intimidating to weary subway riders. Its straight back and uncomfortable steel rods stand in antithesis to what the MTA defines as “the subway founders’ design mission: to make the subway a hospitable place.”
Despite its sharp design, the chair’s small size renders it unobtrusive. Few people on the platform pay it any mind at all. Those who do are just passing through, except for the aforementioned freshlings, who are generously pardoned.