Met Some “Perfect Strangers” in the NYC Subway

After enjoying Chuck Close “Subway Portraits” mosaic installations, I opted for the Second Avenue subway to 72nd Street (instead of the Lexington Line) on my way to the Frick Museum. This time it was Vik Muniz’s “Perfect Strangers” that wowed me with larger-than-life mosaic figures like this.


Even though it was a quiet day and the subway was empty when I arrived, it didn’t feel that way. I never felt alone with all the “Perfect Strangers” of everyday New Yorkers scattered strategically on the walls. And they were perfect from concept to execution in their breadth of subjects, whimsey, range of emotions, and just plain presence.

So perfect that sometimes it was hard to tell the difference between the real people and mosaic figures from a distance. Can you guess which figure is live in this photo? 

Vik Muniz shows us a wide range every day people. The poignant pictures of kids and parents stood out. 

Like the Chuck Close installation, the mosaic details were extraordinary too.

A trail of red balloons was a unifying element that kept popping out in unexpected places. The balloons brought out the silliness in me – as well as the live perfect strangers who were so willing to take my photo (everyone smiled when I asked!)

Apparently I wasn’t alone in my attraction to these balloons. I found this man looking up at one of the entrances, and wondered why – until I looked up and saw the red balloon way up at the top. As I got closer, I was drawn to the variety of colors scattered among yellow glass tiles in his jacket.

Many of the portraits depicted tradespeople in work clothes, everyone from a repairmen, rabbi to a nurses – and Vik Muniz’x son dressed in a tiger costume (Tony the Tiger?).

After I got home and did a google search, I found out this unobtrusive man carrying a green bag of vegetables was Daniel Bolud.

Courtesy of and Daniel Bolud/Facebook

These underground masterpieces recalled  the William Penn “Small Trades” photography series I had just seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which I would recommend.  

What made these figures extraordinary is that I could identify with so many of them – especially this man rushing for his train when his briefcase flew out of his hands, spewing papers all over. I felt sorry for him.

I saw myself in the tourists taking photos, and the woman carrying her New York bag (like the one I used when I first moved to NYC).

I could image myself trying to navigate the subway system with luggage.

The bonus was that I always felt well protected by New York’s finest.

Between the Vik Muniz installation at 72nd and the Chuck Close installation at 88th, I saw one of the greatest art shows of the entire weekend in the subway. The two installations complement each other perfectly. I can’t wait to explore the 96th and 73rd Street stops.

As Rebecca Sobel wrote, the best new museum in New York City is underground. Bravo! 


  1. I just saw some of these for the first time on 5/25 – so synchronistic to see your post! – and what a tremendous addition this line is to NYC transit. It took forever, but people are using it like it’s always been there.

    • Ah, we’re connected… It’s a wonderful line! Besides the art, it made a curve towards midtown that potentially saved me a transfer and/or a lot of time. Did you see Chuck Close too at 86th Street?

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