Inside the Stockholm Metro: On track for art


There is no such thing as a boring commute in Stockholm. Even on the greyest winter's day, passengers travelling on the city's extensive metro system are confronted with colourful paintings and sculpture, walls covered in mosaics or installations that spring unexpectedly out of the ground.

More than 90 of the metro's 100 stations feature permanent artistic exhibits. In fact, there is so much art in Stockholm's 100 km long metro that it has been described as the world's longest art gallery. The work of more than 150 artists is featured and, in some cases, artists have been commissioned to decorate an entire station.

Ever since the metro was launched in 1950, art has been an integral part of the system. The city's central hub, T-Centralen, the point where all three metro lines meet, features the work of artist Per Olof Ultvedt. With the knowledge that this would become one of the metro's busiest stations, Ultvedt drew on different shades of blue to add a touch of tranquillity to the underground station. Blue tones are used for everything from the painted vines festooning the walls and ceilings to the silhouettes on the walls that pay tribute to the steel workers and engineers, welders and tunnellers who helped build the metro.

As more metro stations were rolled out over the decades, generations of artists used the metro as a canvas on which to address contemporary themes and concerns. The result, according to artist Fredrik Landegren, who worked on the Fruängen station, is that a trip through the metro offers insights into Sweden's changing art scene.

"You can start at T-Centralen, the beginning, which reminds us of where we have been, and then you journey outwards and experience how it evolves into different things," he has explained. "It's time travel through Swedish art."

Like any museum, the Stockholm metro makes more sense if you have a guide. Every summer, free English-language tours introduce visitors to some of the metro's artistic highlights. Or you can read more about the stories behind some of the metro's most eye-catching stations here.

Kungsträdgården: There is an Alice-in-Wonderland air to this station, which features everything from water installations to sculptures to crazily coloured floors. Every element, however, has its own role to play in the design. For instance, the green, red and white lines on the floor, by Ulrik Samuelsen, pay tribute to the Makalös Palace which once stood here. The green references the palace's baroque gardens, the red echoes the gravel pathways, and the white is a tribute to the marble statues that once graced the grounds. A small selection of palace artefacts uncovered by archaeologists, including marble columns and stone sculptures, is also on display.

Östermalmstorg: Designed in the 1960s by painter and sculptor Siri Derkert, the art in this station addresses many of the main issues of the time, including women's rights, the green movement and the threat of nuclear attack. The etched silhouettes of key female figures from history – ranging from the ancient Greek mathematician Hypatia to English writer Virginia Woolf – were drilled into the cement using a sand-blasting technique, and are interspersed with quotes from the Marseillaise.


Solna Centrum: A powerful snapshot of another era is on display at Solna Centrum. Designed in the 1970s, this station features a vivid mural depicting a nightmarish red sky stretching above a green spruce forest. This critique of environmental devastation and rural depopulation (just look at that factory spewing out pollutants) was spray-painted by Anders Åberg and Karl-Olav Bjork. Its extraordinary length – the mural stretches for almost a kilometre – increases its impact.

Stadshagen Station: One for the sport lovers. Stadshagen has a number of aluminium sheets painted by Lasse Lindqvist on display, each one depicting a different sport. What is most remarkable is the way the image changes depending on the direction from which you view it. The football game, for instance, shows the Swedish team from one direction, the Danish team from another. Another sheet is dedicated to skiing (cross-country skiing viewed from the left, downhill viewed from the right), while a third panel depicts track events from one direction, field events from another.

Stadion Station: This is one of the cheeriest stations to travel through in the depths of winter, thanks to a vibrant colour scheme inspired by the colours of the Olympic Rings. (The station is near the site of the 1912 Stockholm Olympics). Every sculpture and sign appears to be painted in Technicolour, standing out vividly against the station's blue-painted rock walls.