New York City is one of the most art-influenced and art-influencing places in the entire world. Aside from being packed with museums, art houses, theaters, galleries, and music venues, it’s the kind of city whose streets ooze with creativity—from Subway platform bands and back-alley b-boy crews, to street art galore and more fashion forwardness on its pinky finger than the rest of the globe has in its whole being.
Case in point? Limited edition MetroCards. The little plastic things millions of people swipe through turnstiles to get from their tiny studios in Brooklyn to their (un)paid internships in Manhattan, or to get from Penn Station to the summer splendor of Coney Island, have themselves become little pieces of affordable and practical art in the kind way only a bunch of New Yorkers could think up.
The David Bowie Release
It’s been a little over two years since the world said goodbye to the great Ziggy Stardust, and while Bowie is gone, he certainly isn’t forgotten. The MTA, Spotify, and Brooklyn Museum teamed up to release these limited print MetroCards to celebrate a Bowie exhibit currently running at the museum. There are five different cards, and each features a photo of Bowie during different periods of his life. While the cards are promotional, they tie in very well with the exhibit, as well as the Bowie art installations inside the Broadway-Lafayette subway station.
Could you imagine paying thousands of dollars for a plastic used MetroCard? Well, it happened last year, after Supreme released their limited edition MetroCard collaboration with the MTA. Then again, we suppose it’s not too shocking, since Supreme is also the brand that once sold limited edition bricks that also went for thousands online. The limited collaboration featured a single design, which was a regular MetroCard on the front, and the recognizable red and white Supreme lettering on the back. Before they started showing up on eBay for ridiculous prices, they were available at Supreme stores in New York, along with a select few Subway stations—including Broadway-Lafayette, Queens Plaza, Union Square, and Spring Street.
Of course, you can’t really talk about anything with the Supreme logo on it without mentioning Barbara Kruger—the artist whose work they kinda-sorta ripped off to get their logo. Kruger’s cards debuted last November, and featured her telltale white lettering with a red background, with questions like, “Who is healed?” and “Who is silent,” as well as, “Whose hopes?” and “Whose values?” The cards were released in conjunction with a series of installations she was doing for the Performa Biennial, and they were extremely limited—only 50,000 cards were printed among four subway stations. To this day, the Kruger cards are some of the rarest limited edition MetroCards ever released.
I <3 NY
Hurricane Sandy devastated many areas of New Jersey and New York in 2012. One year after the terrible hurricane, on October 29th, 2013, the MTA released commemorative limited edition MetroCards celebrating New York’s resilience during the recovery process. The 300,000 cards each featured the classic “I <3 NY” logo on the front, and on the back, an image of one of six places in the city hit particularly hard by the hurricane. The cards were a part of the “Come see the comeback” tourism campaign conceived after Sandy, and their goal was to encourage tourists to go visit areas more deeply impacted by the storm.
The 10-Year September 11th Remembrance Card
On the 10-year anniversary of the tragic terrorist attacks that changed Lower Manhattan forever, the MTA released two limited edition MetroCards, each in remembrance. The first card featured the opening and dedication of the 9/11 Memorial, and listed directions on how to get to the installation and museum. The second version of the card mentioned the 9/11 Memorial website, along with the same subway directions on how to get to the memorial installation.
110-Year Subway Anniversary Card
We wouldn’t have MetroCards without a subway system. Naturally, when the 110-year Anniversary of New York City’s Subway System came around, you bet your ass the MTA released some badass limited MetroCards commemorating the event. The cards featured a slick front design that said, “The Subway Celebrating 110 Years,” and on the back, featured a series of historic photos of different stations under development, including the Jerome Avenue line in The Bronx during its 1915 construction, dignitaries inspecting the City Hall Station, the extension of the subway service to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn in 1916, and the introduction of the subway service to Queens in 1915.
The Second Avenue Subway Card
From a strictly design aesthetic perspective, the commemorative Second Avenue Subway MetroCard is probably our favorite. The cards, released to celebrate the grand opening of the Second Avenue Subway and its three stations back in January of last year. The front of the card features a clever modern design that uses subways signage to say, “THE SECOND AVE SUBWAY Q” and the back says, “This is the new MTA. The Second Avenue Subway. We’re just getting started.” The design was also seen on maps of the line, along with banners hung in stations, and on display in actual subway cars. Of course, nothing was as cool as the cards.
The Brooklyn Nets Card
The Brooklyn Nets speak to the city’s historic past, and give everyone from the borough something to be proud of. To celebrate their 2014-2015 season, the Nets made history by becoming the first official sports organization to purchase space on a MetroCards. The cards featured Brooklyn Nets players aside a banner reading, “WE ARE BROOKLYN,” and they were available for purchase at 34 St. Penn station, 42 St. Times Square, Wall St., Jamaica Center-Parsons/Archer, and several other popular stops.
Nick Cave Heard NY Card
When we talk about New York City’s rich arts culture, the collab between famous Chicago artist Nick Cave and Grand Central Terminal and the MTA is the perfect example. In March 2013, Cave turned Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall into a colorful horse corral, complete with ornate costumes, live music performances, and choreographed dancing. In the lead-up to the exhibit, the MTA released MetroCards depicting three of Cave’s colorful horses on the front (in a white background), and “NICK CAVE HEARD NY” on the back. They’re our favorite art-centric cards, and since their release, they have also become one of the most sought MetroCards by collectors.