Collection 1880s–1940s

José Clemente Orozco. The Subway. 1928 599

Oil on canvas, 16 1/8 x 22 1/8" (41 x 56.2 cm). Gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. © 2023 José Clemente Orozco / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SOMAAP, Mexico

Tunji Adeniji: When I first moved to New York City, I got a token and I did not come up out of the subway, I was taking all the lines that were on the subway system. And that time that I'm talking about to ride on the subway was less than a dollar.

My name is Tunjii Adeniji. I'm the Chief Facilities and Safety Officer for The Museum of Modern Art in New York City. I've been riding the city subway dating back to the 1980s, you know, almost 40 years ago. Usually Fifth Avenue and 53rd street, when you go down there, around 5:00-5:30 pm at night, pre-pandemic, you know, you couldn't even move. It’s like sardines. Everybody is packed down there.

The mood that I saw in the painting, I can tell you, it reminded me of during the peak of the COVID-19 when people were not taking the subway. You see a person sitting down alone and just gazing, and the mood can be interpreted in so many ways—what is the state of my health? How am I going to pay my rent? How am I going to support my family? All those things it kind of demonstrates this somber situation that is somebody that is overwhelmed. And I experienced the same thing when I was riding the subway.

I'm sure that a lot of people, the essential workers, whether the security guards or the grocery workers, I'm sure they had the same experience riding alone on the subway. So, Jose Clemente Orozco’s painting was able to kind of look into the future and connect the time 92 years ago to the present time 2020.

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