Friday, December 10, 2010

Underbelly Project

Is it still art if no one can see it?

That’s one of the philosophical questions posed by the Underbelly Project, where graffiti artists collaborated to decorate an inaccessible subway platform hidden beneath New York City.

Getting there involved crossing over hot third rails and risking arrest. The organizers have kept the location a secret. After the artists finished their work, they closed it off again, and at the moment no one from the general public can get back down there.

Luckily the artists took some photos, so we can see the art from the comfort of our computers.

The notion of inaccessible art isn’t new. Many of the painted caves of Lascaux and Altamira were never easy to get to. Some of the Taino carvings I’ve seen in caves in Puerto Rico involve an underground traverse over a mile and swimming across underground lakes. And many ancient cultures with a belief in the eyes of spirits have created elaborate painted tombs, sealed off to the living.
Previously: Camuy Cave Exploration.
Read and see more about the Underbelly Project at the following links:
Second Avenue Sagas
Street Spot Blog
New York Times
Thanks, Frank.


Suciô Sanchez said...

Sometime the painted detail in an awkward corner can have more impact than a big, showy mural.

Eric Lynch said...

I would think, at least in the cases of our ancestors, that the purpose of making art in inaccessible locations (like buried deep beneath the earth) may have had a lot to do with the desire to create art that would last and withstand the test of time and the elements. It certainly worked out for the painted caves of Lascaux.

It's kind of neat to think of this graffiti work surviving the rise and fall of civilizations just like the art in those caves. Perhaps someday archaeologists will be able to take people on tours through the layers of New York City just like we see layer on layer of foundations in old Roman churches.

Daniel Cruit said...

I share Eric's sentiments. I sometimes think about the washing away of graffiti from the walls of new york. Banksy did a very powerful piece that parodied this washing away of culture, in which he painted a huge official on a wall spraying away the paintings in Lascaux. Really made me think about the issue entirely differently. It really is our culture (maybe not ours personally, but it's an important part of American life today).

Keith Parker said...

I've heard that there are places in the Sistine Chapel that Michelangelo painted where he was working so hard to make it just right in the obscure nooks and crannies of the ceiling. Someone said to him "But no one will see it" to that he replied "God sees it." I have no Idea if this story is true or pure fabrication but either way I'm sure he felt that way about it.

I know that as an artist it will bother me when I don't get things done as well as I think I should even if most people can't tell or I have no intention of showing the work to anyone.

John Larriva said...

I just read a related story about Jason de Caires Taylor, who installs sculptures on the ocean floor.

Matthew Gauvin said...

I think it's quit ironic that perhaps more people will now see this graffitti art than would have if it had been painted on the streets above ground. When you really think about it people pass by graffitti all the time without really ever stopping to look at it for any length of time. But I can say for sure that I just spent a bit of time looking at this underground art that never would have been brought to my attention otehrwise. Particularly since I'm in Vermont!!
Keith I've heard that rather recently too and I'm kind of thinking I may have read it on this blog,LOL. Not really sure.

K. W. Broad said...

I've seen that topic pop up in a couple different art communities, particularly when an artist wipes their gallery or admits to not sharing everything they create.
Almost every time someone will argue that art is not art unless people see it.

I've always felt that was just a difference in priorities though. Which part matters more to the artist: the finished product or the process of creation?

Personally I've always been more about the process. I can claim my day successful if I created something, even if it's not something I feel is presentable and will get thrown away, deleted, or shoved in a folder and buried in a filing cabinet. I wonder if the guys that did this graffiti felt the same (Well, sans the fact they still shared photos).

Arnaud said...

I definitely think it's art even if no one sees it. One could say "especially" if no one sees it. As soon as you paint something with the project of displaying it, the audience enters the equation, and so, you might say it's somewhat biased.

K_tigress said...

If you really look at that piece, to me it resembles a modern urban totem pole.