The Underbelly Project: The aftermath, one week in

Surge. Photo by RJ

It’s barely been one week since The Underbelly Project was revealed across the web and in print. In my first post about the project, I wrote:

When the last artist finished painting the last wall, Workhorse and PAC made access to The Underbelly Project nearly impossible by removing the entrance. 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. Nobody can. For now, The Underbelly Project has become a time capsule of street art, somewhere in the depths of New York City.

Well I guess getting to the station wasn’t made as difficult as had been expected, because it took less than a day for the station’s location to hit the web and for people to attempt to gain access themselves. Naturally, some of the first people to reach the station were haters with paint in hand. They splashed some of the paintings and knocked over sculptures. So much for the station becoming a time capsule of street art. Here’s some of the damage:

Photo by paulbesteves

That’s street art and graffiti. It goes away. Maybe it was naive of me to think that The Underbelly Project would be any different.

But not everybody trying to visit the station has been successful. Apparently, a number of reddit users have been arrested by NYPD for trying to access the station and spent the night in jail. I hope I don’t sound like asshole by saying “I saw this amazing thing in person, now you should see it in photographs,” but that’s exactly what I’m going to suggest to anybody thinking about visiting The Underbelly Project. Especially anytime soon. It’s just going to be a honeypot for police with cops stationed there most nights to make easy arrests. And, more importantly, it’s dangerous. The LTV Squad, a team of NY urban explorers, explains:

Don’t go into NYC subway tunnels. It’s bad idea. Tunnels are confined spaces where injury and death are readily possible. The photos of this project are all over the internet. People continue to send us these photos. They are not hard to find. If you want to see the art, do so from your own home.

Photos by RJ Rushmore and paulbesteves

  • It sucks to see the work gone over… But what did they expect? Like I said before if they had just tried a little harder not to give in to the temptation to invite a whole bunch of people down there and then do a massive newspaper spread then maybe this “street art time capsule” might have lasted a couple more months.

  • RJ

    But George, the project did stay untouched and unnoticed for some time. The NYTimes doesn’t decide to write those sort of articles in the arts section overnight. And that’s especially true with The Sunday Times Magazine. They need a certain amount of lead time. Since my trip to the station happened before it was completed, I don’t know when things were finished, but even going down over the summer when I went was pretty amazing.

    If The Underbelly Project was really street art’s worst kept secret (and I’m not sure it was), people with a bit of insider knowledge, no care for their safety and a drive to seek out the location had plenty of time to visit the station before last week. Maybe that’s just me saying that because I was led there instead of having to research the location and rely on rumors, but plenty of reddit users have been going down there and some of them have even made it back without issue so it was possible.

    As you say though, in the end, the “street art time capsule” probably would have only lasted a few more months at best and I was probably naive to think otherwise. So if the art is going to get ruined anyway, what’s the reason to keep it a secret? Why not go out with a bang and get some publicity for a bunch of talented artists like Roa, Revok, Jeff Soto and Faile?

  • ludvig

    Shoulda kept the whole thing a secret. But, where’s the fame in that? Always comes back to the same thing…

    Great idea, but you’re always left to ponder the meaning of ‘projects’ such as this, There are props to be had for sure and someone is always gonna want them, ego always gets in the way. So now those who ‘organised’ this have got their props, but were naive to expect others not to be able to crack the spot if they could. And not all ‘others’ would be like minded. Destruction of the work was the only predictable end result.

  • 4444

    Why not? Because it’s stopped anyone from being able to ever explore that ghost station or any others like it on the network ever again, as they are now being sealed up so tight by the authorities as to be completely impenetrable. Is publicity for some artists all you care about, or do you ever think about the wider implications?

  • RJ

    4444, that’s a concern for sure, but I think you’ve overstated the problem. For right now, yeah, it would not be a good idea to visit that station because you may get arrested, and security may or may not be tightened at other spots at as well (the MTA claims that they are trying to tighten security, but let’s face it: they have limited resources). And that’s unfortunate for urban explorers.

    In the longer term though, urban explorers will once again be able to explore those sort of stations in NYC. Once things die down, access will become possible once again to those who wish to risk their safety. Las Vegas’ storm drains are well-known to people and still very accessible. So are Freedom Tunnel and the catacombs of Paris. Once things die down a bit, the MTA and NYPD’s attention will shift elsewhere and access will be possible. The LTV Squad, a group of urban explorers, at least seem to like the project or are at worst indifferent. If this was going to be a long-term problem, I’d think they would be upset. But maybe other UE groups are. I’m not sure.

    Publicity for the artists is not all I care about and as I’ve said before the artists and especially the organizers would be mad to have only done this for money/publicity, but it doesn’t hurt as an added bonus for their hard work. I was just making that point to George because I know he cares about artists and the scene in general and The Underbelly Project has helped promote street art and graffiti by getting people to read about these artists in major publications.

  • 4444

    It doesn’t exactly take many resources to have some heavy steel security doors installed. They only need to hint at a possible terrorist threat and they’ll have more federal dollars than they could ever need.

    This article and the comments below it describe the project perfectly in my opinion….

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  • Most people into exploring in this town simply do not care. The station will get sealed up for a long while. Big deal. It was a nice place to visit but there are hundreds of such places in the NYC area.

    The haters out there just wish they were included. Haters gunna hate. Street artists are not going to swarm into subway tunnels now over a sudden, and if this was such an important place to graffiti artists why were there exactly 2 writers who got up in this space before? 99% didn’t even know it existed.

    Graff is all over the NYC subways for decades now. One tiny space full of a variety of art harms no one.

  • “Graff is all over the NYC subways for decades now. One tiny space full of a variety of art harms no one.”

    I agree. The graffiti vs. street art conflict is a bit silly, though, in a way, understandable. Think of this project as a reprise of Rodney King’s line: “Can’t we all get along?”