In the Underbelly

Dan Witz for Wooster Collective (c/o Wooster Collective)

It’s all going down in New York’s subway system. Literally.

Since news of the ambitious Underbelly Project broke, the hunt has been on to find it.

If you’ve not heard of it, imagine works by 100 of the best street-artists working today, names like Ron English, Swoon and Revok–all created in secret, hidden away in a disused subway station… and sealed away. That’s the Underbelly Project.

It took 18 months of cat-and-mouse with the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (the artists behind it were all too aware of the fact that not only could they be prosecuted for trespass or criminal damage, but given the location of their “gallery” and the long-term nature of the project, they could face altogether more serious charges… the kind that come with men in black suits, windowless cells and orange jumpsuits with silver accessories as standard) and now it’s done.

And there’s no denying it: the art is incredible: just look at the Vandalog flickr set of Underbelly works. This piece by Jeff Soto has got to be one of my favourites, along with this one by Surge, and this ever-so-slightly creepy one by Dan Witz. He has more of his work from the project (as well as his other pieces) on his site.

I like the idea of this, of all that art hidden away in the dark. From the photos, you can only imagine the working conditions–but you can also argue that hey, that’s part of street art. Should it really all be on gallery walls–or is doing it for the sake of it, somewhere like this, still the point? It’s almost quantum: if the art’s down there in the gloom of the tunnels, does it still exist? Well, yes.

If you’re cynically-minded, you could argue that for all the Underbelly’s comments about the secrecy of the project, they’ve still gone to the press now it’s all over–but, seriously, having managed to pull it off: to get all the artists down there and back out, to collect together a quite-literally-underground gallery on this scale, how can you not want to celebrate it?

If you’re interested in learning more about it, there’s articles here and here, as well as the NYT’s slideshow of photos. There’s another article–and a video tour of the tunnels–here.

And really, go and look at the pictures of the pieces; share the links round. They deserve to be seen, in context with their surroundings, with the weight of the city and its inhabitants pressing down on them, rushing around overhead–unknowing and unseeing…. and isn’t that part of their charm?

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