Tuesday, 25 June 2013


15 for 150: Posters in the Tube Southwark Underground Station

I Came By Tube     52 x 146 cm
A young woman, beautiful and mysterious. We are looking at her but she is paying us no attention. We cannot tell what is holding her gaze. The sepia photograph, the retro make up and hairstyle, and the crook of her arm suggest another age. She's in a puzzling setting too - she sits on a sawn-off tree trunk, an unlikely spot for a nymph in sylvan woods or a model posing while her beautiful body is being transfomed into white  marble.  Most surprising of all, she protects her modesty with maps of the London underground.

Goshka Macuga is a Polish-born London artist and runner up for the Turner prize in 2008.   I Came By Tube is one of 15 posters by leading contemporary artists commissioned to mark the 150th anniversary of London Underground.

   Macuga has a particular gift for playfully exploring the history of art and the history of art institutions, often using collage and found objects. Here she has chosen the map made in 1931 in his spare time by a railway employee called Harry Beck (for which he was paid 10 guineas). It's the first  diagrammatic map of London's  Underground. He realized that the physical locations of the stations above ground were irrelevant to the traveller wanting to know how to get to one station from another. It was a huge success and the idea has been copied world wide.

Macuga's decision to display it on the body of a beautiful young woman disrupts our expectations. As does her earlier Cave 1999, when she borrowed work from her artist friends and set them in a 'grotto' made of crumpled brown paper, citing the prehistoric cave  as the first museum/gallery. She is particularly interested in the history of advertising and its relation to women. Is she suggestng that we look afresh at the way women's bodies are used in advertising each and every product?

Beck's map inspired Simon Patterson's The Great Bear (1992), to be found in Tate Britain. In this witty and  memorable work he reproduced the map and replaced the names of the underground stations with the names of engineers, philosophers, explorers, planets, journalists, footballers, musicians, film actors, saints, Italian artists, comedians and kings.

P.S.The publicity says that the posters are on view at London Bridge, Southwark, St James' park and Gloucester Rd tube stations. But I searched in vain at London Bridge and not even a staff member who consulted a staff member who consulted the Supervisor knew of them. But you can see them in all their glory at Southwark station - and maybe at the other stations too.

PPS. Each artist has created a special signed and numbered edition of the prints, now on sale.


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