Daniel Buren reimagines the London Underground’s iconic roundel symbol
The London Underground’s relationship with fine art spans nearly a century. The network has presented a united face of design, typography, architecture and fine art since the late 1920s, a tradition that has been nobly upheld in the most recent extensions to the tube system and in the myriad examples of print and poster design that are commissioned every year.
In the past decade, Art on the Underground has offered up one of TfL’s smallest canvases to some big names in the art world. The humble Tube Map, handed out for free across the capital, has seen covers by Gary Hume, David Shrigley, Liam Gillick, Cornelia Parker, Mark Wallinger, Tracey Emin, Rachel Whiteread and more.
The 21st edition of the series is the work of French artist Daniel Buren, renowned for his rigorously geometric artworks and scultures - most recently seen atop the roof of Le Corbusier’s Cité Radieuse in Marseille. For Art on the Underground, Buren has created ’From A Single One To Millions’, a piece that subverts and explores London Underground’s iconic roundel symbol, refined by the typographer Edward Johnston in the twenties and further perfected by the graphic designer Hans Schleger the following decade. The circle and bar was subsequently translated into signage, 3D lettering, architectural devices and way-finding by many others, including the Design Research Unit and Wolff Olins.
Daniel Buren’s interpretation goes back to the graphic simplicity of the original, abstracting the corporate identity into the basis for a densely layered geometric pattern, grounded by a grid of blue lines. It’s classic Buren, but also suitably reverential to the culture and aesthetic of the Underground itself.
The artwork also foreshadows a new permanent artwork by the artist, created as part of the reconstruction of Tottenham Court Road station (itself part of the massive infrastructural upgrade required for Crossrail). As with the other 20 commissions, the latest Tube Map is a welcome addition to the ongoing aim of putting fine art into millions of pockets.