America Is Hard to See

Solo en Inglès

This audio guide highlights selected works by artists in America Is Hard to See. Curators, scholars, and artists provide additional commentary.

721George Tooker, The Subway, 1950


George Tooker (1920–2011), The Subway, 1950. Tempera on composition board, 18 1/2 x 36 1/2 in. (47 x 92.7 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Juliana Force Purchase Award 50.23. © George Tooker

NARRATOR: Have you ever had the feeling, as you enter a subway station, that you might somehow never get out again? This painting by George Tooker is full of entrances and exits, yet the people in the image appear trapped. Look at the woman in the center of the painting with the grey overcoat. You can see she’s put one foot in front of the other, but her body seems frozen. The anxious expression on her face suggests she knows she’s going nowhere. Notice how much this subway scene resembles a labyrinth or a prison with its bars and gates. Look to the left side of the painting. Note the three figures in overcoats standing inside narrow cubicles. They could be people using public telephones, but they seem mysterious and even sinister. For Tooker, the subway is a symbol for the anxiety and estrangement of modern life. Tooker made this image not with oil paints but with egg tempera. In this technique, pigments are mixed with egg yolk so that the paint dries very quickly. Tooker liked the medium because he felt it suited the careful realism of his paintings.