Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Underbelly 3: The Frenzy Continues

The verdict on this project, it seems to me, is something that we will  work out over the next few weeks, months, or perhaps years or, who knows? even longer.

Google now gives me about 65,000 hits for “the underbelly project” vs. 35,000 hits 24 hours ago. Will we be at 95K in another 24 hours?

Some photos have cropped up (w/ comments here) depicting the damage done by some vandals, though I’ve not read anyone commenting on the irony of the vandals being vandalized. I suppose that’s mostly because the comments I’ve read are by people who, by and large, approve of, or at least are intrigued by the project. At some level they accept the baseline premise of the project and so view the defacing of the work as vandalism, pure and simple.

The vandalism seems to be grafsters vs. hipsters (the street artists). And that, of course, is one of the interesting things about The Underbelly Project. It includes work from the graffiti world and the street art world, worlds that have a somewhat testy relationship. I’ve seen a fair number of comments expressing grafster resentment of street artists, but relatively little so far in the opposite direction. FWIW, while I have no reason to believe I’ve been sampling comments in a random way, I’ve certainly not taken pains to seek out sites that would favor grafsters. Mostly I read sites that come near the top of Google searches.

A number of people have been intrigued by the idea of a trove of art hidden away in the earth where no one can see it. And as many, if not more, have said that, now that the word’s out, the site will be found directly. And they’ve been right. The sight HAS been found, and vandalized.

What I’m wondering is why Watchman and PAC ever thought, as they apparently did, that the site would remain hidden once its existence was made known and photos available. Didn’t they realize that lots of people know Hidden New York fairly well and that some of them would surely find the site? Of course, they also knew that the site was pristine despite having been abandoned for decades. If no one had marked it before they found it, what reason did they have to believe they’d seek it out AFTER they’d populated it with hidden art?

And, if they hadn’t broken the news to The New York Times, The Sunday Times (in the UK), and a few insider photographers, perhaps the project site would have remained hidden. But they broke the story, and the world came to know. Once the world knew, really, it was inevitable that someone would find the site. There just aren’t that many places in New York where one can hide a subway station.

What has happened so far, the discovery, the destruction, and the subsequent photos, all that seems inevitable. What happens next, though, doesn’t seem so obvious to me. I assume that Watchman and PAC have some plans to release some documentation of the project. After all, they’ve already provided photographs and videos to the two newspapers. Presumably they have more, most likely much more. Will they release it on their project website for free? Do they have a book in the works, a DVD? Who knows. Will they be identified by the police and MTA and prosecuted?

One line of chat, of course, is that this is all a stunt calculated to create demand for books and limited edition photos and so forth. On this line, the expressed purpose of creating an art exhibit entirely outside the commercial claws of the art world, that’s all just a come-on, a way to hype interest in The Big Reveal. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on this. I think they’re sincere in wanting to make a strong statement about art that’s outside the legit gallery world, which they assert on their website and in their remarks to Jasper Rees, the journalist they choose to break their story. I certainly believe that such a statement needs to be made and thus I'm biased on the matter, and I'm certainly not unusual in that regard. At the same time, what’s the point of making such a statement if the World At Large doesn’t know about it? None as far as I can tell. To keep silent is simply to walk away from the world, to refuse any responsibility for that world.

They had no choice but to make plans to get the word out and to do they best they could to control the process. The process is now in motion; it’s out of their hands. But not entirely. They’ve got moves to make. Let’s see what they do.

The verdict on this project, it seems to me, is something that we, the world, will work out over the next few weeks, months, or perhaps even years or, who knows? even longer. That meaning must be negotiated. And the outcome of those negotiations is not at all certain.

ADDENDUM: More photos, some amazing stuff.

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