Secret underground art show thrills New York

It's the hottest, most talked about art show in New York - and almost no one even knows where it is.

With a huge space and 103 of the hippest contemporary artists participating, "The Underbelly Project" sounds like a powerhouse production at the Met or MoMA.

But while the Big Apple may have seen most things in the art world, this is different.

Illegally located somewhere deep underground in an abandoned station of the New York Subway system, "Underbelly" consists of graffiti art by a who's who of the street genre's leading exponents.

Starting in 2009, they worked clandestinely, with almost military discipline, to elude the authorities, navigate pitch-black tunnels, paint, and resurface.

Their work completed, the artists sealed access to the subterranean complex and abandoned their mysterious outpourings. The show's website, www.theunderbellyproject.com, has for the last week displayed nothing more than a brief written introduction against the flashing background of empty tunnels.

It "defies every norm of the gallery scene," wrote Jasper Rees, one of the few outsiders allowed to glimpse the phantom show and who revealed its existence October 31 in The New York Times.

"Collectors can't buy the art," Rees says. "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 Transport Authority."

Photos posted by the Times and on street art blogs show dramatic, wild works executed in appalling conditions of dust, damp and darkness broken only by camping lanterns.

Slogans like "We own the night" give way to abstract creations, surreal human forms, and ghoulish apparitions of rats and skulls.

But what created an instant legend was the idea of entombing the work.

"Even if any of us wanted to go back (and I do), even if we could remember how to get there (and I don't), we can't," writes Michael "RJ" Rushmore, who was taken to photograph the site, for his blog vandalog.com. "'The Underbelly Project' has become a time capsule."

- New York's ghost stations -

----------------

A guessing game is underway across art websites about the location of this ultimate underground experience.

Many New Yorkers are unaware of the archipelago of abandoned stations, platforms and tracks, or trackless tunnels running parallel to the visible Subway system. There are nine complete stations alone, according to the website Abandoned Stations.

Charles Seaton, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transport Authority, or MTA, confirmed to AFP only that "it is a closed station. All I can tell you is that it's in Brooklyn."

The war between the MTA and graffiti vandals has been going on for decades. Spraying of subway trains got so out of control in the 1970s and '80s that many carriages were almost inundated in "tags."

"Tagging" continues today, but the MTA immediately pulls those cars out of service, starving would-be artists of the notoriety they crave.

And Seaton said the "Underbelly Project" was not being taken lightly.

"Trespassing is against the law, as is vandalism. Anyone caught in connection with this incident is subject to arrest," Seaton warned.

That illegality is exactly what drove the "Underbelly Project" as it sought to reclaim graffiti's daredevil roots and, in the words of the project's website, create an "elusive pirate treasure of contemporary art."

The show also sought to roll back the commercialization and gentrification of graffiti.

This is an age when street artists like JR and Britain's Banksy have global recognition and collectors are pouring in money.

Next year, Los Angeles' trendy Museum of Contemporary Art plans a major retrospective of graffiti called "Art in the Streets." And last year, the Cartier Foundation in Paris had its own "Born in the Streets" show.

So taking their spray cans four storeys under New York was about as far from the chic gallery scene that "Underbelly's" artists could get.

As, Workhorse, one of the two leaders of the project, told Rees: "If you go in there and break your neck, nobody's going to hear you scream."

But, like the incomplete map of the Subway system, not everything is straightforward.

Although they worked in secret, many of the artists taking part in the project are literally stars in the worldwide graffiti community.

LTV Squad.com, another blog, cites a "'who's who' of the art world," including Sane, Swoon, Roa, Posterchild, Faile, F5, Smells, and Cash4. "'The Underbelly Project' is perhaps the biggest, boldest art project of its kind ever created within NYC."

That kind of hype is making some graffiti aficionados skeptical.

"The artists talked about not making this a mainstream thing with the galleries, but in a sense it falls right into that," said Eric Felisbret, a former tagger who runs the influential www.at149st.com website and who recently published "Graffiti New York," a photo history.

"It helps reinforce their street cred and that's what gets buyers interested in this form of art. It builds the mystique," Felisbret told AFP.

He added drily: "If they wanted to be secret, they wouldn't have contacted the Times."

Photographs of the "Underbelly Project" can be viewed at: http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2010/10/29/arts/design/20101101-underbelly-ss.html

And http://tagbomb2.ltvsquad.com/DisplayPage/ID/24/Sec/Gallery/

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen