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The World’s Longest Art Gallery Is in Stockholm’s Metro

A 65-mile tunnel decked out with murals, paintings, and sculptures.

Stockholm’s metro is more than a way to get from A to B. The city’s 65-mile tunnelbana system is decorated with vivid murals, funky sculptures, and striking floor and ceiling patterns. Rich colors are splashed straight onto bedrock, giving some stations the feel of an enchanted underworld. You’ll find more creativity in a single station of what’s been called "the world’s longest art gallery" than in the New York subway, London Underground, and Paris Métro systems combined.

The T-Centralen station, the historic hub of the network, debuted its artwork in the 1950s. The blue-on-white motifs were added in 1975, by which time advances in tunnel-blasting technology had made it easier for artists to work in tandem with engineers and architects.

In the Vreten Tunnelbana, on the Blue Line, is Takashi Naraha’s The Heaven of Cube.

Huvudsta station, also on the Blue Line, features a hanging gardens motif. The vast majority of Stockholm’s 100 or so stations feature imaginative treatments like this one. And it’s not a new thing, either: More than 150 artists have contributed work since the first art station (an above-ground stop) emerged in the 1950s. Huvudsta dates to 1985.

The Radhuset ("Court House") station is a sandstone grotto tricked out with historical elements inspired by Kungsholmen Island in central Stockholm.

Artist Richard Nonas placed 17 bench-like seats along the platform at Skarpnäck. The station’s red rock and tile floors were inspired by the red brick buildings of its namesake neighborhood in southern Stockholm.

A glass dodecahedron is one of several features that evoke the world of science and engineering at Tekniska Hogskolan, the station for Stockholm’s celebrated Institute of Technology.

The red walls at Solna Centrum depict the sky in a mural featuring a line of spruce trees running along its lower section. Made in 1975, the artwork — which is aimed at urban commuters, perhaps pointedly — is a commentary on the loss of nature and rural life.

In the 1970s, Metro builders started to spray a few inches of concrete over bedrock rather than cladding it entirely in cement. The less invasive technique may look cool now, but not everyone was a fan at the time. According to the Stockholm metro authority’s art brochure, "There were those who were afraid that these underground grottos would inspire thoughts of the underworld, Hell, and other horrible things."

Birgit Stahl-Nyberg’s 1977 treatment at Akalla depicts the work and leisure of men and women. It’s worth noting that many of the most eye-popping tunnelbana stations debuted in the 1970s, a time when the likes of ABBA and Bjorn Borg we putting Sweden on the global pop culture radar.

The striped platform at Duvbo station, built in 1985, is a signature feature. In addition to sheer aesthetic pleasure, transport officials claim the colorful treatments help people avoid getting lost and reduce crime.

Low-relief sculptures at Duvbo, created by Gösta Sillén, poke out like fossils.

The green ceilings and striped floors at Kungsträdgarden evoke Stockholm’s popular outdoor park, which served as a pleasure garden in the 17th and 18th centuries. Gargoyles, marble statues, and other touches add to the Baroque vibe.

Pipes just down like post-modern stalactites from the ceiling at Universitetet. The blue tile walls are typical of the bathroom architecture seen in the original ‘50s and ‘60s stations.

A woman stands on the Tekniska Hogskolan platform as a train rushes by.

The colorful ceilings at Stadion hail, perhaps unsurprisingly, from the Swedish ‘70s. Visitors who want a full immersion in the tunnelbana imaginarium, can take a free guided art walk. The Metro authority offers them year round, but in English only during summer months.

Photos by Conor MacNeill.

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