Stockholm’s Subway Art
Lola A. Åkerström explores Stockholm’s extensive underground art on a free guided tour.
I met Marie Andersson at Kungsträdgården (“The Kings’ Garden”) station by the Arsenalsgatan/Skärgårdsbåtarna exit. A certified art guide, Marie was going to take me underground past rushing commuters, many of which were oblivious to the art surrounding them. We were going to explore Stockholm’s Tunnelbana (T-bana) network and its impressive cave artwork.
Touted as the world’s longest art exhibition at 110 km long, travelers will find a variety of paintings, sculptures, mosaics, tiles, installations, and other durable art displays in Stockholm’s subway art, put together by 150 artists in over 90 of the city’s 100 stations.
Our first stop along the Blue Line, Kungsträdgarden, is arguably one of the most dramatic installations. It is the vibrantly colored abstract harlequin design which engulfs its caves. Painted by Ulrik Samuelson in 1977 with additions made by the artist in 1987, this ceiling artwork can be found on the Arsenalsgatan exit side of the station.
At Kungsträdgården, we explored the mini-archaeological dig with Roman columns, marble slabs, and stone sculptures – all 17th and 18th century remnants from Makalös Palace which once stood above the same location. In addition to gas lamps that once lined Torsgatan – a street in Stockholm – and other relics dug up from various parts of the city, the artefacts belong to the National Art Museums collective, particularly Stockholm City Museum and have been permanently on display since the 1970s.
Also painted by Ulrik Samuelson are green, red, and white curved lines that run all along the floors of Kungsträdgården. The art harkens back to the history of Kungsträdgården with the green stripes symbolizing its once beautiful green Baroque garden, the red hue symbolizing gravel pathways, and the white lines symbolizing the stone marble statues that once graced the garden grounds.
Ulrik Samuelsson continued his red, green, and white trademark patterns all through the connecting halls of Kungsträdgården, wrapping the paintings along the walls, ceilings, and floors, making it one of the most intricate and visually impressive patterns of the entire subway network.
From Kungsträdgarden, we moved on to main artery T-Centralen which is where all trains connect and interchange. Since T-Centralen is the busiest stop with passengers connecting on multiple levels to catch various subway lines, the blue vines and flower motifs running along the walls on the Blue line side of the station were designed by Per Olof Ultvedt in 1975 to offer a few moments of soothing calm as passengers wait for and transfer to different trains.
Artist Per Olof Ultvedt also wanted to honor the workers – welders, carpenters, steel workers, engineers, miners – who were working at the station as well back in the 70s. Instead of inscribing their names on walls which felt eerily similar to a grave memorial, he decided to paint silhouettes in blue of the workers including himself all over the walls and ceilings of the Blue Line connection at T-Centralen as a way of honoring their service.
At the most heavily-trafficked station, T-Centralen, commuters might often miss the pattern of multi-colored glass prism tiles running along its walls. Designed in 1958 by Erland Melanton and Bengt Edenfalk, the display is called “Klaravagnen” and was one of the first art installations in the underground network.
Hopping on the Green Line and getting off one stop later at Hötorget for a quick tour, Marie explained that some of the artwork were more subtle like the 1950s light teal-colored tilework and vintage signposts at Hötorget often called the “bathroom” station. The artist, Gun Gordillo, also added 103 strips of winding neon lights along the ceilings in 1998 to add more drama to the station. We then moved on towards Fridhemsplan to switch back to the Blue Line.
Continuing along the Blue Line, we travelled northwest. En route to Solna, we stopped at Stadshagen where ingeniously painted aluminum sheets line its walls. Painted by Lasse Lindqvist in 1975, they showcase shifting sport images such as the Swedish football (soccer) team – if looking from the left – playing against the Danish team – if looking from the right. There are also transforming painted sheets illustrating a track and field meet, and winter sports such as cross-country skiing.
Spray-painted all over the rocks and walls of Solna centrum are deep red and dark green colors depicting a fiery sky and green spruce forest. These illustrations of socio-ecological issues – “rural depopulation and destruction of the environment” – were painted by artists Anders Åberg and Karl-Olov Björk in 1975 at the peak of Sweden’s industrial era.
The centerpiece of Solna’s artwork is its 1000-metre long forest which runs along the base of its walls. As part of their artwork installation, Åberg and Björk also depicted outdoor lifestyles such as fishing in clean streams as well as Nordic wildlife like moose which were threatened by industrial pollution of the 70s.
After backtracking to T-Centralen to switch to the Red Line, our final stop together was Stadion. All over Stadion are brightly colored sculptures and signs using colors of the rainbow which symbolize the Olympic Ring as well as a large arching rainbow atop marbled blue rock walls; all designed by Enno Hallek and Åke Pallarp in 1973 to commemorate the 1912 Olympics which took place in Stockholm and the nearby Royal College of Music which is another important city landmark.
Storstockholms Lokaltrafik (Greater Stockholm’s traffic agency locally known as “SL”) runs free weekly guided art tours of Stockholm’s subway art led by certified guides such as Marie Andersson and others and all you’ll need is a valid ticket to ride the trains.
The tour itself is free.
For more on Stockholm’s subway art, take a look at Expedia’s interactive subway map.