Art at Amtrak is brightening up Penn Station with art by New Yorkers

Current artworks focus on Indigenous symbols and showcase sunsets from around the world.

Rossilynne Skena Culgan
Things to Do Editor

Travelers rushing through Penn Station will now have a reason to slow down for a moment to experience local art. The station's new look was unveiled today as part of the Art at Amtrak public art series.

Dennis RedMoon Darkeem's vibrant artwork depicting totems and other symbols fills the main rotunda area, and sunny pieces by Ghost of a Dream (Lauren Was and Adam Eckstrom) overlook the departure hall. 

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"This is not merely wallpaper; it’s communicating something," Art at Amtrak curator Debra Simon told Time Out. "That's why I chose Ghost of a Dream and Dennis—not only was their artwork immediately accessible and visually engaging but there’s a meaning behind it."

Darkeem's work, titled "Patchwork Travelers," draws on colors, patterns and icons such as the medicine wheel from his dual heritage as an Indigenous and African American. As a mixed media artist, Darkeem blends collage, sculpture and photography in his work. Even printed on vinyl covering the pillars in the Penn Station rotunda, the pieces look textural, as if you could run your fingers along the sweetgrass braids or dip a toe into the water. 

Dennis RedMoon Darkeem with his work.
Photograph: By David Plakke / Courtesy of Art at Amtrak | Dennis RedMoon Darkeem with his work.

His work transformed plain blue concrete pillars into bright columns that stand out even in a visually loud space amongst ads and signs for fast food restaurants. Now, standing the middle of the rotunda between the columns puts you in the center of a healing circle with images honoring the four directions.  

"The idea of acknowledging the past and the future," said Darkeem, a member of the Wind Clan within the Yamassee Yat’siminoli tribe, who lives in the Bronx. "And when we talk about diversity what does that really look like?"

A few steps away, work by the Wassaic-based artist collaborative Ghost of a Dream (Lauren Was and Adam Eckstrom) has taken over the pillars and walls of a corridor. Their piece "Aligned by the Sun (Connections)" features photographs of sunset from more than 200 nations, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. During the pandemic, Was and Eckstrom asked artists from around the world to share videos of the sun as a way to forge connections. Now, they've pulled stills from each video and arranged them into a continuous horizon line metaphorically placing viewers at Penn Station in the center of the planet.

"We thought about the sun because it’s something we all see. We see that same object no matter where we are in the world," Was said. "It transcends borders." 

Ghost of a Dream (Lauren Was and Adam Eckstrom) with their work.
Photograph: By David Plakke / Courtesy of Art at Amtrak | Ghost of a Dream (Lauren Was and Adam Eckstrom) with their work.

Glowing images surround the departure hall and cover pillars looking like what Eckstrom calls "stacks of energy." He hopes people will be drawn in by the beauty of the images then think more deeply about them. It's important to the artists that anyone can have that experience with art, not just museum-goers. 

"Public art in general has the power of surprising you," Was said. "If you take the time to look up, there’s a connection to the greater world." 

The Art at Amtrak program launched this summer and will continue to showcase contemporary art from around the region through temporary exhibitions which rotate every few months. It builds on public art programming already established at Moynihan Train Hall across the street. 

"It really transforms the space visually," according to Sharon Tepper, Amtrak director, planning and development for New York Penn Station. "It means so much to us to be able to show this work of local and regional artists."

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