Stockholm’s Subway Network Is the World's Longest Art Walk

Photographer David Altrath engaged in his own form of social distancing to capture these photographs when commuters weren’t around.

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For tourists obsessed with beating the crowds, Covid-19 is a catch-22. With the world’s great attractions empty, it’d be the perfect time to travel, but they’re only empty because a deadly new virus has forced everyone to stay home.

Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to avoid the crowds once the pandemic is over. Like traveling in the off-season. Buying tickets in advance. Or just visiting in the middle of the night when most normal people are sleeping. It’s how David Altrath toured and photographed Stockholm’s surprisingly arty metro last year. “It seemed like I was the only person there,” he says.

Stockholm’s metro—or tunnelbana as the Swedish call it—bills itself as “the world’s longest art exhibition,” and that’s no exaggeration. Since construction began in 1950, some 250 artists have decorated 94 stations across 68 miles of track. (By contrast, the Louvre’s exhibits run 9 miles long.) Many of the stops look like caves a troll might inhabit, their blasted bedrock walls sprayed with a thin layer of concrete, then adorned with intricate murals, reliefs, and even LED sculptures. In the Mörby Centrum Station, a frosted white ceiling and candy-colored tiles conjure childhood visions of the North Pole. In Solna Centrum Station, flaming red walls evoke hell—though a clean, heavenly version of it. “The floor is so shiny, you could eat off it,” Altrath says.

Altrath hadn’t realized Stockholm’s metro was so cool before visiting from Hamburg, Germany, last September. He and a friend rode the train in, emerging at the brightly lit T-Centralen Station, where the system’s three lines meet. An intricate blue and white mural enveloped vast walls and ceilings, giving him the feeling he’d entered a more magical world. “I’d never seen anything like it before,” he says.

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