Going underground: discover urban art on the Buenos Aires subte

You can find great street art everywhere in Buenos Aires, even underground.

Buenos Aires is a vast canvas for urban art, and so of course the subte, as well as being an efficient public transport system, is also a gallery of urban art with 450 artistic interventions from 200 artists at stations across the network.

You’ll find intriguing artistic interventions at most stations on the system, but here are some of the highlights to look out for on each of the six lines. Pick up a SUBE travel card, charge it with credit, swipe it at the turnstile and see what gems you can find under the streets of Buenos Aires.

Line: Porteño passions and promises 

Famous for being the first metro line in Latin America, line A connects the central downtown area with the neighbourhood of Flores, with 18 stations decorated with art covering a range of themes, from Argentina’s native peoples to the eras of immigration and symbols of Porteño tradition.

Lima station, located to the west of the intersection of Av. de Mayo and Av. 9 de Julio boasts work by three artists displaying different themes. First there’s Gustavo Godoy’s La Promesa, (The Promise, pictured above), which, with much humour, unexpectedly transforms old photos into new works of art. Then there’s Horacio Altuna’s tiled mural Gente de Buenos Aires (People of Buenos Aires), which demonstrates Porteños diverse ideas, interests, values and passions. Finally, there’s the artist Hermenegildo Sábat’s three murals that pay homage to the great tango musicians of Buenos Aires’ past. Músicos de Buenos Aires I, II and III depict Julio de Caro, Astor Piazzolla and finally in the third mural all together: Aníbal Troilo, Homero Manzi, Enrique Santos Discépolo and Carlos Gardel.

Linha: from pre-Colombian art to Buenos Aires’ fileteado

The city’s second subte line, line B, follows the route of the famous Avenida Corrientes. The stations display a huge range of artwork covering different themes, from Argentina’s native flora and fauna, and native peoples, to poignant moments in the country’s history, such as the terrible attack against the AMIA in 1994, as well as homages to the city’s neighbourhoods, and, of course, the tango.

Two stations are worth highlighting. Away from the busy centre, Parque Chas / De los Incas showcases several grand sculptures that pay homage to pre-Colombian art, displaying images typical of the symbolism of these native cultures. The other that must be mentioned is Carlos Gardel station near the Abasto shopping centre. Here there are nine murals made  using different techniques. There are four mosaics designed by Marino Santa María using small ceramic pieces, paying homage to the tango, the Abasto and Avenida Corrientes, and Carlos Gardel himself. Another classic piece in this station is fileteado artist León Untroib’s portrait of Gardel (pictured above), which you’ll see before entering through the turnstiles at the station. There’s also a fileteado piece by Andrés Comagnucci incorporating three images of Gardel, a pieces by School No.22 showing a typical tango orchestra and two murals by Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró that pay tribute to Porteño icons.

Line: the Spanish line

The shortest subte line, which connects Buenos Aires’ two largest train stations, Retiro and Constitución, is sometimes referred to as the “Spanish line” because of the displays of Spanish landscapes at stations along the line. It was the first line to be decorated with murals and was built with Spanish capital. The artworks aimed to reiterate the historic links between Argentina and the “motherland” of Spain.

San Juan station has several pieces made of Spanish-style tiles, including murals by Martín S. Noel and Manuel Escasany. The first depicts the cities of Zamora, Salamanca and León, important points on the silver route that connected the north and the south of Spain, through their most iconic constructions. Another piece shows a composite panoramic view of the Levante cities Albacete, Murcia and Valencia, in which the artists create a journey through the cities’ medieval streets giving the impression of one single large city.

Line: an underground temple to footballing passion

Line D, with 16 stations, connects the centre, Palermo and Belgrano. With a mix of styles, from the muralist movement of the 1930s to contemporary artists, the line is filled with landscapes, Argentine customs and important historic landmarks, which, in contrast with line C, highlight the traditions that help Argentina create a national identity of its own.

The station José Hernández beneath Av. Cabildo boasts several pieces with different themes. There are four murals by Raúl Soldi, the artist who painted the dome of the Teatro Colón around the same time. You’ll also find painter and sculptor Rogelio Polesello’s Without Limits I and II, two abstract murals forming a diptych that create a mirror effect. Finally, there’s a collaborative project created in 2015 that pays homage to Argentina’s footballing legend Lionel Messi, with the corridors and platforms decorated with large posters of the greatest player of all time sporting the Argentine national strip. As decorated footballs dispersed throughout the station, the sculptor Leandro Sívori created a dynamic sculpture with scenes from Messi’s life, illustrating his career from different angles.

Line: journey from the past to the present

Line E was the last to be built in the 20th century and connects the centre of the city with Flores. There is a running theme of major historic events and Argentine landscapes in the 15 stations of this line, and a mix of historic and modern pieces, many of them made in situ.

Boedo station, in the neighbourhood of the same name, proudly displays the neighbourhood’s tango tradition through murals created in situ by Pedro Cueva, and paying tribute to Homero Manzi, Aníbal Troilo and celebrated members of the Boedo Group. Geometric elements in the pieces bring together the concepts of essence, matter, sky, earth and energy. The mural Boedo in the Mid-19th Century by Alfredo Guido, shows a different image of the neighbourhood with low-rise houses, dirt roads and figures cultivating fruit and vegetables, with the aim of connecting the past to the present. Finally the piece Kids Playing by the painter Primaldo Mónaco depicts kids playing in the road with fantasies that conjure up the magic of childhood.

Line: tango and diversity

Line H is the city’s newest line, built in the 21st century to connect the south to the north of the city, passing under the avenues Jujuy and Pueyrredón. There’s a tango theme along the line, recalling the genre’s singers, musicians and lyricists.

But while the tango is the main theme, this line also boasts a world first: a metro station dedicated to sexual diversity and the fight for LGBT rights. The station Santa Fe - Carlos Jáuregui is the first station in the world to be named after a LGBT activist. Fitting i with the tango theme of the line, there’s a homage to the musician and orchestra leader Osvaldo Pugliese, but the majority of interventions in the station are references to the LGBT pride movement, with the colours of the rainbow flag decorating the stairs and entrances to the station and depictions of different bodies and different expressions of love, including interventions by the artist Daniel Arzola.

These are just a few tasters. We’d need a whole book to display all of the underground artwork you can find on the Buenos Aires subte system. The best option is to explore for yourself and see what you can find. And see what other publicly displayed art you can find dotted around the city.