Art goes underground for Stockholm commuters

Art goes underground for Stockholm commuters

STOCKHOLM - It's deep underground, dubbed "the world's longest art exhibition", shows everything from Roman torsos to giant tulips and, if you live in Stockholm, can be seen everyday on your way to work.

Welcome to the Swedish capital's metro system, where 150 artists have exercised their talent on some 100 stations along the 110-kilometre (68-mile) network to distract, amuse or intrigue the tens of thousands of commuters who ply the route daily.

The subway "becomes an important place in people's lives," said artist Ulrik Samuelson, 78, whose 1977 design for the central Kungstraedgaarden stop remains a favourite.

The Swede, who has exhibited in galleries from New York to Paris, liked the idea of targeting an "uninitiated" audience.

He created a subterranean wonderland with green, red and white shapes and stripes, as well as busts and building fragments, all alluding to a 17th-century palace that once stood above the site.

Ten years later, he added dripping grottoes and tropical plants as well as statues and fragments from an old city district demolished in the 1950s.

"This is our Forum Romanum, or Forum Stockholmium maybe," said Johanna Malmivaara, an art guide for the city metro, proudly.

Samuelson's design is part of the permanent exhibition, some of which dates back to the 1950s when the underground first opened.

When it was extended in the '60s and '70s, there was concern that people unused to travelling underground might be scared, like they would "come to the underworld," said Malmivaara.

So the Stockholm regional government suggested " 'why not make it pleasant and decorate the underground instead'," said Malmivaara.

The metro today offers an eclectic mix of paintings, sculptures, mosaics, video installations and even textile, with a hefty annual maintenance cost of 10.5 million Swedish kronor (S$2.02 million).

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