A Collector’s Item?

- 24th of Aug. 2010 -

...this project is a wink at those who tend to take the art world a tad too seriously, sometimes refusing to see the humor...

This past May, Transport of London published a new tube map, with an exceptional cover featuring work by Barbara Kruger, an American artist who’s work is famous for using text and popular image to convey an idea. Her interpretation of the subway map replaces station names with words describing traits of human personalities, such as Compassion, Vigilance and Devotion, as well as personal aspects we all wish we had, like Reason and Belief, and emotions we all tend to feel, like Envy, Pride and Doubt.  This was not the first time a special cover was used for the pocket tube maps of the London Underground. Since 2004, some twelve artists have participated in Art on the Underground, a project advocating artistic interpretation of the iconic underground train system.


The 12 covers done so far.

Kruger being the famous of the artists who have participated in this project, her map seemed to cause some noticeable buzz on the web, with some hate and some love, as all internet buzzes go…


Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Tube Map), May 2010.


And this is the back.

A little while ago, a friend picked a few of those maps up for me at their origin. The proud owner of such maps and before they are framed and put on the wall (yep), I felt like sharing my thoughts on them.

Personally, I think that this is public art, transforming what usually goes on canvas or printed paper to a mass communication tool. Since art is a massive communication tool, they are the same to me, even if one sits in its uniqueness within the walls of an establishment and the other is printed in 15 million copies and has a high potential of confusing every tourist who is oblivious to it all.

Barbara Krugers art has always dealt with consumer culture and how those who live in it tend to express themselves. Aesthetic and straight-forward, her works have been highly popular from the start. To me, this project is a wink at those who tend to take the art world a tad too seriously, sometimes refusing to see the humor it can hold while managing to express an opinion on how this consumer world connects emotion to objects and places instead of self and others.

Other artists who have participated in the past include some very important ones as well:


Yinka Shonibare, Global Underground, June 2006.


Liam Gillick, The Day Before, January 2007.


Emma Kay, You Are In London, August 2004.


Gary Hume, Untitled, July 2005.


David Shrigley, Map of the London Underground, February 2006.


Jeremy Deller and Paul Ryan,
Portrait of John Hough, Transport for London’s longest serving member of staff - 45 years, July 2007.


Cornelia Parker, Underground Abstract, January 2008.


Pae White, Fragment of a Magic Carpet, Circa 1213, October 2008.


Paul Noble, Troubadour Carrying a Cytiole, March 2009. 


Mark Wallinger, Going Underground, May 2008.


Richard long, Earth, September 2009.

It seems that through the years there had been some inconsistency in publications of this wonderful project. I hope that Transport of London will continue pushing this project along and enlist plenty more known or unknown artist to do this. It might not be the “coolest thing”
to collaborate with institutions when dealing with public art and Street art might be “the thing” right now, but I do believe that this is a wonderful way to introduce art and artists to a range of public that would not normally be interested. It brings the beauty of art to a wider audience and that is a very important thing.

I would love to hear which cover you think is best or how you feel about this type of collaborations between artists and public institutions, Leave a comment below to join the discussion. 



Comments - 3

So what do you think? The world wants to know!

Yaron Schoen

August 25, 2010

These look great, but I am wondering if this is considered art or design? I think this is a good example of where the line becomes blurry no?

Adva Schoen

August 25, 2010

I think this is where art comes in as a play on design. The Original Tube Map is pure design, while these interpretations are an artistic reaction to the design. Design is defined by its visuality as well as its functionality, especially when it comes to public service publications, while art, though having a high visual value, has very little, if not none at all, functionality. It is there to be seen, experienced, nothing more. The covers, then, take the pure design and make into an un-functional visual.

Kevin Selles

March 22, 2011

When I returned to London in 2008 after a ten-year holiday in Spain, one of the first things I grabbed was a Tube map. I had Cornelia Parkers design in my Oyster card wallet for four months until Mark Wallingers version was made available, which is my favourite one without doubt. It represents the history of London brilliantly with the RAF roundel, reminding us of how the Underground was used as deep level shelters from the bombs during the war.

Ever since, I have been picking up two copies of each new design that comes up, one for everyday use and one for preservation and collection. In the end I keep both. Its interesting to see the worn out map next to the unused one. At every one I look at, I remember different stories or situations where the map has accompanied me.

I personally think its a great project by TFL, and I also wish they continue to support amateur and veteran artists by promoting their work on the Underground maps.

FYI - I reserve the right to remove off-topic, anonymous comment or just plain crap. So please be civil.

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