Underground Art in Naples

Eleven subway stations in Naples have become untraditional homes for high art.

It may seem strange that the most cutting-edge art scene is in a subway station. But then again, the best art is often underground. Over the past decade, the city has been transforming sections of the subway system into full-fledged galleries of contemporary works, curated by art critic Achille Bonito Oliva, a former director of the Venice Biennale. Located on lines 1 and 6, there are currently 11 so-called Art Stations (metro.na.it) housing more than 180 works by 90 internationally renowned artists, including Sol LeWitt, Michelangelo Pistoletto and Jannis Kounellis. But the stations don’t just house art; they are art. Milanese furniture designer and architect Alessandro Mendini designed two stations, starting with Salvator Rosa, on Vomero hill. Architect Gae Aulenti, best known for Paris’s Musée d’Orsay, created two others, including Dante, a glass-and-metal station that’s a maze of escalators spanning four levels. Works here include a neon light installation by Joseph Kosuth that quotes Dante Alighieri’s Convivio, titled Queste Cose Visibili (These Visible Things). But the most high-profile project is currently under way: the Monte St. Angelo subway station, designed by artist Anish Kapoor (anishkapoor.com), in collaboration with London-based architect Amanda Levete (the two previously partnered on a proposal for a Princess Diana memorial fountain). Scheduled for completion by June 2012, the station, in the Traiano district, has been described by Kapoor as resembling a descent into the underworld (you can tell commuting has always been hell). There will be two entrances—one a rust-colored mass of steel that reflects the rugged mountains; another of sleek aluminum that speaks to Naples’s newfound urbanity. One can enter either way, and it will only cost the price of a subway ticket.