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Masstransiscope restoration (2008 and 2013)

Masstransiscope was originally installed in 1980 to much fanfare, but by the late 1980s the piece was covered with graffiti and the lights were turned off.  In 2008, Bill worked with the MTA to do a major restoration. After close to 20 years of darkness, the lights were turned back on and a new generation of subway-goers could enjoy the moving images.

In 2012, during Hurricane Sandy, the piece was once again vandalized. By the summer of 2013, with the help of the MTA, NY Academy of Art, and a team of volunteers, the piece was once again restored.

"Reinstalling Masstransiscope," by J.P. Chan for the MTA (2013)

2008 Restoration

In 2008 the piece was completely covered in graffiti. The lights had been off for many years. I didn’t know if the original would be recoverable. I did anticipate damage from the beginning and I protected the painting with graffiti proof sheeting. It was, after all 1980, the height of NYC graffiti culture! But I was worried that after 20+ years the spray paint would have made some kind of chemical bond with the protective plastic and the original would be lost.

When I got the first panel out of tunnel I took it to MetroExpress/ShelterClean and they gave me their top graffiti experts and their high powered equipment. In half a day we partially clean half of one panel and did a fair amount of damage to it in the process. There are 57 panels, so cleaning was clearly going to be a problem. I took the test panel back to my studio and spent the next few months experimenting with solvents and paint removers until I found one that worked. We ordered about 10 gallons of the stuff and went to work on it over the summer. It only took us a couple of weeks to clean all the panels completely.

There were probably 20 or 30 layers of spray paint on the images. I was terribly excited to see the paintings underneath. The workers were as into it as I was and they transformed from professional graffiti cleaners into art restorers. I had some volunteer professional film archivists working too and I think they enjoyed transforming from art conservators into graffiti cleaners! I really appreciated everyone’s careful attention to the laborious detail of the work. Needless to say, I’m very happy each time I get to see it in action from the train and hope it will be maintained for many years.

- Bill Brand

2013 Restoration

During Hurricane Sandy (2012) the city experienced major flooding and many subway tunnels suffered major damage. The water didn't reach Masstransiscope, but vandals took advantage of the power outage to cover the piece in graffiti. One panel was stolen and many more were covered in paint. This time the restoration involved archivists from NYU's Moving Image Archive Program, along with a team from the MTA.

Restoring Masstransiscope at New York Academy of Art in 2013 with Bill Brand, Jieun An, Andrea Callard, Yunsung Jang, Shira Pelzman. Photograph by Katy Martin

'The "Masstransiscope" reemerged—for observant riders, anyway—on Wednesday afternoon, after a day of work by Mr. Brand and a team of MTA workers to realign and install the heavy steel panels.

Mr. Brand spent weeks this summer painstakingly restoring the panels in his Lower Manhattan studio, the same one in which he originally painted them in 1980, the year the "Masstransiscope" was first installed.

Spray paint was scoured off. In some places, damage to the original images was repaired, though some nicks and dings were allowed to remain. "Scratches and dust," said Mr. Brand, who is a filmmaker and film preservationist by trade, comparing the effects of such minor flaws to those on an old movie print.'

'Mr. Brand considered the possibility of graffiti from the beginning. Designing how riders would be able to make out their animated images, Mr. Brand said he and painter Theresa DeSalvio took into account the graffiti that then marked the interior of many subway trains. And he left a plea to underground taggers when the installation first opened.

"When it was first installed, I wrote a note saying 'leave this alone,'" he said with a grin. "And for five years, it didn't get hit."'

- TED MANN, "Subway Artwork, Plunged into Darkness by Sandy, Is reborn." Wall Street Journal, August 23, 2013. Photograph by Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal

website by Jo Brand | (c) 2015