Monday, November 1, 2010

The Underbelly Project

So I wake up this morning, go on the web, and WHAM! It hits me, the Underbelly Project. As the article in the NYTimes says, it
defies every norm of the gallery scene. Collectors can’t buy the art. The public can’t see it. And the only people with a chance of stumbling across it are the urban explorers who prowl the city’s hidden infrastructure or employees of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Which means, in a certain sense, it’s REAL. Though I don’t want to worry that too much.

What is the Underbelly Project? Of course, at this point, everyone with an ounce of interest and an internet connection already knows, but I’ll say anyway, just for verification purposes. It’s graffiti and street art hidden away in an abandoned subway station in New York City. Workhorse and PAC put it together over about a year and a half or so, leading 100 or so writers and artists into the space and giving them a night to paint, paste, or install as they see fit. The rationale:
But Workhorse said: “There is a certain type of person that the urban art movement has bred that enjoys the adventure as much as the art. Where else do you see a creative person risking themselves legally, financially, physically and creatively?”

In recent years, he said, as the vogue for street art has led to “anything that could possibly appreciate in value being ripped off the street by those looking to cash in,” the old sense of adventure and punk-rock energy has faded. The change isn’t all bad, he said . . . But he said he feels strongly that something fundamental has been lost.

PAC and Workhorse saw the Underbelly Project as a way to recapture that feeling and evade the whims of the marketplace. Workhorse called it “an eternal show without a crowd.”
Just so.

Much of the stuff that I’ve been photographing in Jersey City over the last few years is hidden from public view, but not so deeply inaccessible as this underbelly art. Still, that work, like this, is quite different from Old School graffiti on subway cars. Getting up on those cars was, of course, tricky, dangerous, and illegal, but once the writing was there, tens of thousands of people could see it. Until, of course, it got buffed. The underbelly art exists only for those who made it and for those few who were escorted through the space.

The rest of us will have to be content with photographs. The NYTimes has some. As does LTV Squad, Vandalog (with commentary & partial list of artists), Luna Park (blog, Flickr), and Gothamist. Though hidden and all but inaccessible, the whole world knows about it.

Meanwhile, Second Ave. Saga has identified the spot as South 4th & Broadway in Brooklyn. So who knows, maybe it’ll be open for tourists in a few weeks. Maybe the MTA will charge billionaire bankers $100K a pop for an escorted tour of the spot. How about throwing in a catered meal for a party of, say, ten, for an extra quarter-mil. And an overnight stay on a king-sized bed, with champagne and soft lights, make it half a megabuck.

No doubt Streetsy will stay abreast of developments.

I leave it as an exercise for the reader to compare this project with the rather different history-thru-graff project that the Times reported last week.

And next week, what will it bring?

The BIG QUESTION, of course, is whether or not the coupling between street and web is the savanna on which a new trans-national aesthetic will be founded. Or, has it been founded all ready and all we’re waiting for is the recognition? But just WHO is going to do the recognizing? ET?

ADDENDUM, Nov 1: FWIW, the very best cave art, the most refined and elaborated, is deepest in the cave and thus hardest to get too. Why?

ADDENDUM2, Nov 2: Rumor has it that the space has been found and trashed. See comment by Groncho. Looks like the MTA isn't going to be scoring big bucks by charging TARP beneficiaries for an exclusive look-see.

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