The story behind the faces that appear on five Queens and Brooklyn subway stations

One of five sculpted faces watch over the Woodhaven Boulevard subway station in Woodhaven.  Eagle  photo by Jonathan Sperling.

One of five sculpted faces watch over the Woodhaven Boulevard subway station in Woodhaven. Eagle photo by Jonathan Sperling.

By Jonathan Sperling

Somebody’s watching you.

For nearly three decades, J and Z train riders in Brooklyn and Queens have been watched over by five sculpted faces that jut out from five different subway stations in the boroughs. 

The faces are the work of artist Kathleen McCarthy, and can be found at every J/Z train station between Cypress Hills in Brooklyn to 111th Street in Richmond Hill. Known as “Five Points of Observation,” the faces were designed between 1990s and 1993 out of copper mesh.

Towering over the streets below, each six-foot-tall face is positioned at different angles and inserted in specially cut openings in the windscreen walls of the platform that normally block straphangers’ views to the street.

By standing in the faces, riders can look out onto the street through the eyes of the sculptures. Because each of the faces were created to be both multiethnic and androgynous, subway riders and those on the streets below are free to assign their own stories and identities to the sculptures, according to the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

The faces are made of steel armatures and the aforementioned grid of copper wire mesh. This contribution serves a protective as well as expressive function, according to the MTA. Just like in real life, no two faces are alike.