Arty commuting in sparkling Naples metro


Commuting has never been so arty -- taking the metro in Naples is now a cultural experience with the opening this week of the latest stop in a spectacular network of "art stations" by international designers.

For the price of a 1.3 euro ($1.8) metro ticket, tourists and locals have access to 16 stations filled with 200 colourful works of art -- including sculptures, murals, mosaics and floor decorations.

Beneath the smog-filled streets and faded beauty of this bustling southern Italian city, officials say they have created "an underground contemporary art museum" combined with an ultra-modern transport system.

At Toledo station, travellers descend into tunnel covered in sparkling blue mosaic -- like an underwater sea cavern -- lit from above by a funnel of daylight pooling a rainbow of colours into a vast hall.

At the foot of the escalator is the installation "Waves" by Catalan artist Oscar Tusquets Blanca and Robert Wilson from the United States with a bas-relief of waves in a passageway lit with a line of LED lights.

Fuchsia-pink and lime green tones dominate the University station, the only stop entirely designed by one artist -- Anglo-Egyptian Karim Rashid -- who used light boxes to create the illusion of floating figures.

Beyond the floor and walls bathed in light, two giant portraits are projected onto stairways: one features the sharp nose and piercing eyes of Italy's most famous poet Dante Alighieri, author of the Divine Comedy.

The other is his beloved muse, Beatrice.

The architects, artists and designers behind the metro stations were hand-picked from around the globe by Achille Bonito Oliva, artistic coordinator for MetroNapoli, the company which runs the underground.

"The idea is for beauty and transportation to meet. We ask artists to create a work to become a part of the station," he told AFP.

"We wanted to make what I call an 'obligatory' museum, where people are obliged to look at their surroundings. Here it's not about people going to museums, the museum travels along with the public," he added.

In a city plagued by unemployment and poverty -- ranked the worst place to live in Italy in a survey this week by the Il Sole 24 Ore business daily -- "it is important to bring art into people's lives", said Giannegidio Silva, head of MetroNapoli.

This week, the metro stop at the main Garibaldi train station was inaugurated in a project launched a decade ago with a budget of 1.5 billion euros ($2.03 billion), half of which came from the European Union.

Designed by French architect Dominique Perrault, the station is a hub for the city's two metro lines and is expected to double passenger numbers from the estimated 200,000 people who currently use the underground daily.

At the foot of the escalators, some 40 metres (131 feet) underground, Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto has created a wall of mirrors with photos of life-sized travellers going to and fro along the platform, standing in groups and talking to each other.

The 80-year-old artist, who was present at the inauguration, said he had long been thinking about doing something in a transport system.

"The travellers, the viewers, become a part of the work... it's a relationship between life and art, art and the station," he said.

Two more stations are planned by 2015 -- Duomo by Italy's Massimiliano Fuksas and Municipio by Portugal's Alvaro Sizo -- both winners of the prestigious Pritzker architecture prize.