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by Oliver Schwaner-Albright

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Sometime by the end of the month the public will get its first view of See It Split, See It Change. A 250 foot-long curved wall of fused glass panels and mosaics by Doug and Mike Starn, it snakes along the new South Ferry subway station. It’s a stunner, and an unusually engaging piece for a city that already takes public art seriously.

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At first See It Split, See It Change seems simply bold and graphic, a striking backdrop for your dash to the 1 train. It features an axonometric view of Manhattan rendered in mosaic tiles—the favorite medium for the MTA’s Arts for Transit—and panels of silhouetted tree branches. But if you linger for a few moments you’ll see how intricate it really is.

Produced in Munich, the glass panels are a meeting of 21st century and medieval technologies. Ceramic powder was printed, ink jet-like, on a panel of glass that was sandwiched with another panel and fired in a kiln for one week. The result is rich with detail and up close you can see flaws in the glass—fissures and bubbles that recall centuries-old stained glass. The panels are so luminescent they seem to be lit from behind.

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An intimate piece on a monumental scale, this is the first time that art was conceived as a part of the development of a subway station and Arts for Transit made a great decision in tapping the Starns. South Ferry is more than just the terminus of the 1 line—and will soon connect with the R and W lines. It also stands at the mouth of the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, which handles 20 million passengers every year. Most New Yorkers are resigned to dreary entries—Penn Station, JFK and LaGuardia. Finally, Grand Central Station has company and the approach from Staten Island will be one of the city’s most majestic.

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