VH McKenzie’s Battle Against The MTA Goliath

This is the story of VH McKenzie, who, like many others, saw a city MetroCard as an intriguing art instrument, and then fought for the right to use it.

The East Village artist has been creating watercolor or oil paintings on city subway cards and selling them on Etsy alongside other original works, creating what she calls “a world where the eccentric downtown East Village of NYC gently rubs shoulders with the ragamuffin heart of the Caribbean.”

VH Mckenzie's MetroCard art.

However, her subway card artwork raised the ire of the MTA, who sent McKenzie a letter urging her to stop selling them until she gets a license from the agency to do so:

“While we at the MTA are flattered that you recognize the value of our brand to consumers, please understand the MTA has a well-established product licensing program which markets authorized versions of such products. While we have no record of your firm requesting or being granted such authorization, we are prepared to initiate discussions with you about acquiring a license from us.”

“That ain’t gonna happen,” McKenzie wrote on her Tumblr, referencing the recent Single Fare 2 show as evidence that the MetroCard art scene is alive and well: “A full-scale gallery show is permitted, at top-notch prices of $100 per card, but my handful of offerings on Etsy, and at a lower price, are not?

Mark Heavey, the MTA’s chief of marketing and advertising, explained the issue last week to the Village Voice‘s Runnin’ Scared blog: “Whenever we find someone profiting from use of our trademarks, we must strictly enforce and protect our trademark rights. As a public entity, this is our obligation. And the issue is not the size of the infringer (individual or corporation), but the principle.”

The story seems headed for a happy ending, we’re glad to report: after her story was picked up by news outlets across New York, McKenzie wrote a followup post on Monday stating that she had exchanged emails with Heavey. With some changes to her Etsy shop, he claimed, “you may continue to do what you are doing.” (That is, once she creates some new works of subway card art to sell – she’s currently all sold out.)

“I wish you continued success with your ‘fare card art’ project,” Heavey told McKenzie; “the media does love a good David vs. Goliath story.”

Guest City: Philly – Seat Cozies Leave SEPTA In Stiches

Ishkits puts the finishing touches on a SEPTA seat cozy.
Ishkits puts the finishing touches on a SEPTA seat cozy.

Seats on the SEPTA (Philadelphia’s subway service) must have seemed cold and blue to local street artist Ishkits, who brought a little sunshine to the system’s Market-Frankford Line last month by hand-knitting some bright seat cozies for Philly commuters to enjoy.

A completed seat cozy, waiting for a lucky passenger.
A completed seat cozy, waiting for a lucky passenger.
Ishkits' SEPTA seat cozies in action.
Ishkits' SEPTA seat cozies in action.

Via Wooster Collective by way of The Mary Sue.

The Great 14th Street Subway Art Switch

If an art installation changes in the subway, will anyone notice? A pair of artists put that question to the test last month, subtly changing artwork in the long tunnel between the 14th Street/6th Avenue and the 14th Street/7th Avenue stations last month, according to Demotix.com and Animal NY.

Usually gracing the corridor is Jennifer Kotter’s “MTA Jewels,” a series of photos of gold-painted transit workers’ instruments. But Outré, a NYC-based artist who seems to specialize in work that is easily missed, overlaid Kotter’s work with similar pictures of gold-plated children’s clothing and diningware taken by photographer stomachface. No one, including transit workers, seemed to notice for twelve whole days in January. Take a look at these before-and-after pictures. Would you have noticed the switch?



“I thought it was kind of funny at first, that somebody would try to mimic my style to such an extent that nobody would notice that the content had changed,” Kotter told NY1. Her original artwork remains mostly unharmed.

More photos after the jump! Continue reading “The Great 14th Street Subway Art Switch”