Where We Are

Solo en Inglès

Hear directly from artists and curators on selected works from Where We Are.

Painting of a subway station filled with people. At the center of the image stands a woman in a red dress with a fearful expression.

George Tooker, The Subway, 1950. Egg tempera on composition board, 18 1/8 × 36 1/8 in. (46 × 91.8 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. 

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