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MTA Arts & Design


Canal Street

Bing Lee

Empress Voyage 2.22.1794, 1998

Ceramic tiles and mosaic banding on platform walls and connecting passageway

Bing Lee's Empress Voyage commemorates the pioneering expedition of the American merchant ship, Empress of China, which in 1794 returned to New York harbor filled with silk, tea, and porcelain (commonly called china, due to its origin). Through the artist's lighthearted use of Chinese-derived icons, the tiles illustrate aspects of the then-new trade with Asia and celebrates today's Chinatown. On the platforms, interlocking teapots incorporate the Chinese symbol for "good life." Other symbols, on the station's upper level, are variations on the symbols for "Asia," "quality," and "cycle." As trains arrive, debarking passengers are given a choice of reading "Canal Street" in English or the Chinese characters for "Chinatown." "I want to give the viewers art that reminds them of history, but also speaks directly to them," says Lee, "something meaningful but also playful."

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