Should you find that you’ve just missed your train at the 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue subway stop in Manhattan, relax. You now have a chance to take in Losing My Marbles, the dazzling series of glass-mosaic murals by Lisa Dinhofer GFA’76 that covers five walls of the station. (The 63-foot main wall consists of three walls separated by doors; the other two are 17 and six feet wide.) Dinhofer recently talked about her Marbles with Gazette senior editor Samuel Hughes.
What was the inspiration for Losing My Marbles?
The competition for the project was in 2001. After the trauma to the city of 9/11, I was particularly interested in creating something joyous—a piece that would open the space and explode with light and color. My work has always been about creating magic and illusion. Marbles have been a consistent theme in my paintings. Breaking the picture plane and breaking rules are other elements I am constantly playing with.
Did you have that in mind for the subway from the get-go?
The MTA curators and the committee members for the competition were very interested in my paintings of marbles, especially a series called “Marble Field.” So yes, I knew that I would be using marbles as a theme in this work.
Marbles are a universal toy. Everyone has played with them. We were and are all kids playing with marbles, and our collective memories are there to be enjoyed.
Was there anything about that stop that inspired the mural or made it seem particularly appropriate for that spot?
The piece is definitely site-specific. It was created particularly for this part of the subway station. It can be viewed in 360 degrees. In other words, Losing My Marbles surrounds you with marbles coming at you from every direction. They escape the picture-plane, roll, and fly.
The site is great because you can enter it from three different directions, including a long ramp with a gradual descent. Therefore, I could play with perspective and make the marbles smaller or larger to help that feeling of flight from wherever you enter the site.
What were the biggest challenges of executing it?
The biggest challenge was not creating the design itself but realizing that winning the competition was the very beginning of the project, not an end in itself like a completed painting would be. I am an easel painter, so doing a public work that had to be fabricated by someone else was something quite new to me. But I found that I could stretch far beyond what I imagined up until that time.
I learned an enormous amount. Not the least of which was how to direct the craftsmen and women who produced the mosaic, and to create a piece to scale and then to see it through to fruition. The entire process took two years. I went from working pretty much by myself in my studio to working with a project manager; craftsmen in Munich, Germany; architects; MTA construction supervisors and curators. It was something.
What sort of reaction has there been from critics and the public?
From what I hear it is one of the most popular pieces in the system. There are over 100 art works in the New York subway, so that’s pretty gratifying. The work is featured in the MTA art pamphlet and a two-page spread in the new book about the “underground art museum” called Along the Way: MTA Arts for Transit.
How cool is it to have your work in such a heavily trafficked spot?
One of my friends said to me that more people will see my work on any one New Year’s Eve than all my gallery and museum shows put together. That’s pretty amazing. About 500,000 people go through the 42nd Street subway station every day. It’s always wonderful when I go to the station and see people stop and look at the piece or take pictures in front of it. The piece is also permanent, which means as long as the wall is there or the subway, my piece will be there.
I am native to this city and love it. The thought that I was able to give something back to New York, the place that nurtured and inspired me, is unbelievable and the coolest thing of all.