London Underground: A Platform for Art

00:00 Sun 24th Mar 2002 |

Q. Surely not

A. Surely yes. In 1999 London Underground introduced its - wittily titled - Platform for Art programme, a public-art initiative which seeks to provide a welcoming, interesting and stimulating environment for London Underground passengers.

Q. So, what's it about

A. A number of things have been done to try to bring art to the subterranean masses and brighten up their day. There have, for example, been a number of exhibitions on the disused section of the District and Circle Line platform at Gloucester Road, including sculpture and photography and plans are afoot to open new venues on the network.

Q. Specifically

A. Between 6 August and 16 September 2000 there was an exhibition of the work of artist Kendra Haste at Gloucester Road. The display featured a group of four life-sized jungle creatures: an elephant, a rhinoceros, an antelope and a swooping vulture. 'Underground Safari', as it was called, was the fifth exhibition in the year-long Platform for Art presentation at the station.

Following on from this, in November 2001, an exhibition called 'Art-Tube 01' was shown in all six carriages of one Piccadilly Line train. Forty-two artists were involved, with big names such as Yoko Ono, Juergen Teller, Paul Simonon, Colin Self, Vivienne Westwood, John Dunbar, Faisal Abdu'Allah and Damien Hirst all taking part. All the works were original and were in a variety of media, and included variations by Aidan Hughes on the old London Transport posters, white panels by Yoko Ono, video stills by Joe Rush and poems by Colin Self. If you travelled on the Piccadilly Line during the period the show was running and didn't actually catch any of it, don't feel cheated: apparently there was only a 1.3 per cent chance of getting on one of the special carriages. (Who worked that out )


he exhibition was the brain-child of Canadian-born pop artist Gordon McHarg, who, as a child in Vancouver, BC, exhibited his drawings on buses there. He is currently curating 'Art Tube-02' and plans to take the idea to other metro systems around the world.

Q. Hasn't the London Underground has been involved in artistic promotion before

A. Yes. Since 1908 London Underground has been commissioning publicity posters from artists and designers. Many or those posters are still on display at the London Transport Museum.

Q. What about Poems on the Underground

A. First introduced in 1986, Poems on the Underground has enriched the lives of travellers for the best part of 20 years. It was originally brought in to exploit unused advertising spaces, but became a huge success, and now the poems scattered around the carriages are as much part of the Underground experience as the 'mind the gap' message. A new set of five poems appears about three times a year. Little did the creators know that its overwhelming success among travellers on the Tube would lead mass-transport systems in New York, Paris, Dublin, Stuttgart, Shanghai and Moscow to adopt the same idea.

The Poems on the Underground movement is widely credited as being one of the forces behind the renewed interest and growth in the appreciation of poetry in the UK, and it laid the groundwork for the current art projects on the system.

For examples of works on show go to

See also the answerbank articles on the Underground map, Brit Art and National Poetry Day

For more on Arts & Literature click here

By Simon Smith

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