Taking the subte to go to work or to visit some friends is not always the best moment of the day. To go from a line to another, you sometimes have to keep calm, fight the crowd, wait patiently on the stairs so that everyone can get on the platform, and then ask someone to push you into the train, desperately hoping that your bag won’t fall on the tracks in the rush.
But next time you have your face crushed on the wagon window, take a deep breath, forget about the people sweating around you and enjoy the view! If you pay more attention to the walls than worrying about the possible pickpockets (though best to keep your belongings close too), you will realise that in Buenos Aires, the subte is something of an underground museum.
The subte stations are full of artistic murals, depicting Argentine history or paying tribute to famous local artists. Some of these works, and a certain number of stations, are considered part of the cultural heritage of the city – several stations were declared National History Landmarks 16 years ago. Many stations are decorated with painted ceramic, but you may also run into sculptures or gigantic wall paintings.
The Argentina Independent took all the subte lines to give you a Top 5 of the most artistic stations of the Buenos Aires underground.
Photos by Kahina Boudarène
Tronador – Va. Ortuzar (B line)
The original stations of the B line (the red one) opened between 1930 and 1931, and were covered with majolica and glazed tiles. The murals enjoyable throughout this line today have been incorporated over the years. Since 1991, most of the stations have been decorated with murals done by renowned local artists.
The Tronador station has been chosen as it is a different from the other stations that are covered with painted ceramic. Instead, it is decorated with 18 stained-glass windows – made in the workshop of Robert Joseph Soler – representing historical images of the Villa Ortuzar neighborhood. Waiting for your train on the platform, you can see representations of the Dr Enrique Tornu hospital, of the weather station, or even the electronic tramway that used to be the main mean of transportation in the area before the opening of the subte. All of these windows have been realised in a simple, almost childish, style, with fine lines. Half of the stained windows are in colour, with the others made in brown glass.
Corrientes (H line)
The H line, inaugurated just six years ago, is characterised by murals dedicated to tango – itself one of the most important art forms in Buenos Aires. The Corrientes subte station, one of the most modern in the city, might have one of the most beautiful paintings of the line, impressive for its size and surrealistic style.
On the masterpiece, we can see two men interacting, but without exactly understand what they are doing. The painting, even though representing something you couldn’t see in real life, is made in a figurative way. The atmosphere is a bit mystic and dark as they are surrounded by gigantic flowers and some kind of big storm. The ambiance might make you think of Salvador Dali’s art: representing imaginary situations in a realistic way. It is definitely one of the most interesting art pieces of the Buenos Aires underground.
You can’t see the mural from the platform or from the subte wagon. To enjoy it properly, you have to get off the train and take the stairs, with this hidden element adding a little extra appreciation.
Peru (A line)
The subte A line is the oldest line of the Buenos Aires subte, with the 14 original stations opened between 1913 and 1914. The owners of the network decided to maintain much of its original form, and it was only earlier this year that the original wooden carriages were replaced with modern trains. The stations are still covered by white-tiled walls and decorated with friezes of different colours; they were, as in the B line, designed to be easily recognisable by illiterate passengers. Metal columns and symmetric lights definitely give a touching charm to the platform.
In Peru station, you can at the same time enjoy the old style of the Buenos Aires subte and black and white pictures of the early 20th century showing to the passengers how the network used to be. The pictures hanging on the wall show the old wagons, the first passengers of the underground buying their tickets, and other images of the subte daily life. This sort of underground exhibition gives a pleasant tribute to Argentina’s history.
Catedral (D line)
The D line, as most of the subtle lines, is largely decorated with murals, with some excellent works in the more modern stations towards the Congreso de Tucuman end of the line. At its other end, however, Catedral station has been chosen as one of the most famous girls in Argentina is represented in it: Mafalda. Created by Quino, her adventures were published in an Argentine comic strip from 1964 to 1973. Even though the protagonist is only a little girl, her stories deal a lot about politics, in a caricatural and devious way. Nowadays, she is famous in Southern America and in Europe as well.
Walking through the tunnels of this station, in the heart of the city, it is possible, looking at the walls, to admire tributes to the strip cartoon heroine. The stories chosen talk about the way we see the world, always in that ironic and humoristic tone faithful to Mafalda’s style. On one image, a friend asks her why the world is so beautiful, looking at a globe, she answers that it is only because it is a fake one. This little girl, even though she acts like a child, always has something clever to say, and demonstrates the adage that “Truth comes from the mouth of children”.
Pueyrredon (B line)
Returning to the B line for our final choice, Pueyrredon station offers an excellent example of the kind of ceramic paintings typical of this, the busiest of all the lines. The station itself is not in very good condition these days but still, the contrast between the art pieces on offer and the degrading walls is interesting.
On Pueyrredon station – as seen in the picture – there are murals painted in 1991 by Ernesto Pesce, a local famous artist, still alive, born in Buenos Aires. He decided to represent the city viewed from the sky, in blue colours, giving an original perspective of the capital. From afar, it is difficult to understand what is represented on the mural. Waiting on the platform in front of the ceramic painting, you will have the impression that it is an abstract painting, and you have to get closer to see all the details and appreciate the artist’s work.
Deciding not the represent monuments of famous places, Pesce just drew skyskrapers, on the right side of the mural, and some gigantic birds, on the left side, which, from this point of view, look as big as the buildings.