Originally, I submitted this essay for publication in the We Own the Night, the official book of The Underbelly Project. It was not published in the book, but today, the two-year anniversary of the public announcement of The Underbelly Project, seems like a good time to finally get this piece out into the world. – RJ
There’s a certain group of street artists, a group whom I tend to admire, who make art to give a gift to the rest of the world. These artists create spectacles. These artists attempt to make the world a better place by putting their art into it. These artists increase the amount of wonder in our everyday lives. This group includes artists like Swoon, Mark Jenkins and the performers in Improv Everywhere.
While not all street artists are trying to do what Swoon and Mark Jenkins are doing, there’s certainly an element of that in the vast majority of street art. At the very least, interacting with society in some way seems to be so much of what street art is about. Like Banksy said “even if you don’t come up with a picture to cure world poverty, you can make somebody smile while they’re having a piss.”
So what does that mean for The Underbelly Project? If I’ve just described the most pure and ethical goal of street art, The Underbelly Project fails miserably. It is inaccessible to the public and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Only a few people besides the artists themselves ever saw any of the project in the flesh, and most of the artists did not have a chance to wander around the space and experience see more than just their wall. And yet, this is not something I even considered during my visitto The Underbelly Project. The idea that The Underbelly Project might be failure as street art is something I only really considered after the project went public and people were disappointed that they had not seen it in the flesh. Why did I experience that disconnect? Is it simply that I was one of the few non-artists to see the station in-progress, so I am speaking from a privileged position? Maybe, but I didn’t go down to The Underbelly Project’s installation in Paris and I still enjoy those photos.
Yes, it could be argued that The Underbelly Project, as a street art project, failed very clearly. But I don’t think that’s the case.
First of all, street art in this decade is, for better or worse, mostly viewed online or in books. Yes, I experienced The Underbelly Project in person and it was a unique and unforgettable experience, but that was an experience of the space more than an experience of the art. To fully appreciate the art, I had to look at photographs. Cameras depict the station better than the human eye possibly could in that darkness. As valuable an experience as it was to get down into The Underbelly Project and wander around, there’s just as much value, in a different way, in looking at good photographs of it.
Maybe the angle of Underbelly as a “street art” project is all wrong. The Underbelly Project is not really a street art project or a mural project. Workhorse and PAC know how to organize mural projects. They know what large street art mural projects look like: lots of artists painting in daylight in very public spaces, usually over the course of a few days, and interacting with curious members of the public. The Underbelly Project is something else. If it’s something else, it should be held to a different (but not necessarily higher or lower) standard.
The Underbelly Project should be compared to the work of the street artists and graffiti writers who paint in abandoned factories. Very few people will ever see those murals in the flesh, but that does not make them any less impressive. Murals in abandoned factories are not gifts to the world in the same way that it is a gift when Swoon commands a flotilla down the Mississippi, but there’s still something valuable about them.
Aren’t artists allowed to enjoy themselves? It is selfish on the part of fans to say that street artists can only paint outdoors in spaces where lots of people will see the work. The Underbelly Project, like murals in abandoned spaces, was a space for artists to experiment and be free. That’s where the project was an astounding success: In a culture where artists are constantly under pressure to perform and sell and promote, The Underbelly Project stripped all that away and brought the artists back to making art for the sake of making art, which is just as much a part of the street art spirit as giving gifts to the public. Street art is about anybody being able to make art and just getting out and doing it for the love of making, rather than for the sake of a paycheck.
Going into The Underbelly Project, it seems that artists didn’t know if their contributions would ever be seen, how images might be distributed, who else was involved or if spending a night painting would “pay off” in a monetary sense. When I accepted the invitation to go see the project, about all I was really told was that I should get to NYC at a certain time of year because it would be worth my while and I’d see something cool. I learned a little bit more about what I was in for before going down, but not much. I thought it would be fun or terrible or interesting or, at least, memorable. I would have accepted the invitation even if I had been forever sworn to secrecy about the existence of the project.
The Underbelly Project is not a gift to the public; it is something for the artists.
Of course, The Underbelly Project will not remain inaccessible forever. People made it into the station for a few days after news of the project broke, but then it sounds like the MTA sealed off the entrance more thoroughly. Some day though, that entrance will be unsealed. Maybe it already has been. Some day, daredevils will risk their safety to visit the station. Maybe they will know about The Underbelly Project or maybe they won’t. Maybe some of the artwork will still be intact or maybe it will all be destroyed. Whatever the case may be, at that point, The Underbelly Project will be a gift. Not to the rest of a world, but to a select few.
In continuation of Katowice Street Art Festival – part 1, this post concludes the two-part series on the Katowice Street Art Festival, which took place last month from April 20th to the 29th.
Toward the end of last month the Katowice Street Art Festival came to a close. Held in southern Poland, the festival featured a reputable lineup of street artists from around the world including Roa, Ganzeer, Escif, Hyuro, Ludo, M-City, Olek, Mentaglassi, and more. The energy surrounding these artists provided the opportunity for a few local artists to exhibit some work on the streets as well (though not affiliated with the festival). Here are some more of the completed murals, and an interesting collaboration between Mark Jenkins and Moneyless; the only two artists involved whose outdoor work primarily consist of sculptures.
Caroline and I were in Baltimore this week checking out Open Walls Baltimore. If you have the chance, definitely make a trip over there. Full posts about Baltimore coming soon. Point is, between Baltimore and moving this weekend, I’ve been lax this week. Things should return to normal on Wednesday or Thursday, but in the mean time, here’s what I’ve been meaning to post about:
Ludo’s piece is a massive wheatpaste that incorporates paint. It looks great, but the one worry I have for this piece is that someone will probably have to paint over the eyesore that’s left when the paper weathers and inevitably comes down.
Photos by Foto – Sigma DP1S, Wojciech Nowak, Tellas and Paweł Mrowiec, also courtesy of Arrested Motion
I love the idea behind The New Blood, a show that Morgan Spurlock (of Supersize Me) has curated at Thinkspace Gallery: He asked established artists to each select one up-and-coming artist whose work they want highlight, with both artists having work in the show. Here’s what Spurlock has to say about the show:
I’m a massive art collector who, by way of my habit formed a relationship with Thinkspace’s Andrew Hosner, and when he offered me the opportunity to curate a show I jumped at the chance. The concept of the show is how the torch is passed from one artist to the next. One opens the door so another can follow. And this show is all about artists who I think have and are continuing to impact and change the art world, and each one of these artists is bringing along an ‘apprentice’ or ‘protege’ who they think we all need to know about, the artists they believe are the ‘New Blood’ of the art world.
The line-up looks really exciting…
Camille Rose Garcia / Travis Lampe
The Date Farmers / Albert Reyes
Dzine / Jesus Bubu Negron
Elizabeth McGrath / Morgan Slade
Gary Baseman / Jesse Dickenson
Gary Taxali / Adrian Forrow
Jonathan Yeo / Charlie Gouldsborough
Mark Jenkins / Sandra Fernandez
Nicola Verlato / Marco Mazzoni
Ron English / Kid Zoom
Saber / ZES
Shepard Fairey / Nicholas Bowers
Tim Biskup / Patrick Hruby
The New Blood opens at Thinkspace Gallery on April 28th and runs through May 19th.
UPDATE – LOCATION CHANGE: The Underbelly Show has moved to 78 NW 25th Street in Wynwood, Miami to accommodate the large scale of the artwork in this show.
The Underbelly Project is back. Last year, I posteda lotabout the project where 103 artists from around the world secretly painted an abandoned/half-completed New York City subway station. After that initial burst of press here and around the web, The Underbelly Project organizers stayed silent. With only occasional vague tweets from a mysterious twitter account and the appearance on Amazon of an upcoming book about the project. Yesterday though, The Underbelly Project announced that they will be participating in this year’s Basel Miami Week madness with a pop-up gallery in South BeachWynwood.
The organizers of The Underbelly Project and The Underbelly Show, Workhorse and PAC, have this to say about the show:
Workhorse: The New York Underbelly was an important chapter for us, but the story hadn’t been comprehensively told. The Underbelly Miami show gives us a chance to present the broad scope of documentation – Videos, photos, time-lapses and first hand accounts. The project is about more than just artwork. This show gives us a chance to show the people and the environment behind the artwork.
PAC: While the experience each artist had in their expedition underground can never be captured, it is my hope that this show will highlight some of the trials and tribulations associated with urban art taking place in the remote corners of our cities. Too often the practice of making art in unconventional venues remains shrouded in mystery and I hope this exhibition will shine a faint light on those artists who risk their safety to find alternative ways to create and be a part of the cities they live in.
35 of the 103 artists from The Underbelly Project will be exhibiting art in The Underbelly Show, plus video and still footage of the artists at work in the tunnel. Here’s the full line-up: Faile, Dabs & Myla, TrustoCorp, Aiko, Rone, Revok, Ron English, Jeff Soto, Mark Jenkins, Anthony Lister, Logan Hicks, Lucy McLauchlan, M-City, Kid Zoom, Haze, Saber, Meggs, Jim & Tina Darling, The London Police, Sheone, Skewville, Jeff Stark, Jordan Seiler, Jason Eppink and I AM, Dan Witz, Specter, Ripo, MoMo, Remi/Rough, Stormie Mills, Swoon, Know Hope, Skullphone, L’Atlas, Roa, Surge, Gaia, Michael De Feo, Joe Iurato, Love Me, Adam 5100, and Chris Stain.
For this show, the space will be transformed into an environment imitating the tunnel where The Underbelly Project took place, right down to playing sounds recorded in the station while The Underbelly Project was happening.
If you absolutely cannot wait until February to get We Own The Night, the book documenting The Underbelly Project, a limited number will be available at The Underbelly Show in a box set with 9 photographic prints and the book all contained in a handcrafted oak box. Additionally, you will be able to your book signed by the artists participating in The Underbelly Show.
The Underbelly Show will take place at 2200 Collins Avenue, South Beach, Miami78 NW 25th Street, Wynwood, Miami. There will be a private opening on November 30th, and the space will be open to the general public December 2nd-5th, with a general opening on the 2nd from 8-10pm.
Primary Projects, the gallery that came out of Primary Flight, has a group show opening next month called His Wife and Her Lover. The show centers on the themes of “destruction, secrecy, violence, social class, pride and desire.” Two artists of note for Vandalog readers will be Mark Jenkins and Cleon Peterson. Also included in the show are Valerie Hegarty, George Sanchez Calderon, Dead Dads Club Corporation, Manny Prieres, Emmett Moore, Franky Cruz, Andrew Nigon, Nick Klein, Johnny Robles, Jessy Nite and Edouard Nardon. His Wife and Her Lover opens on September 10th and runs through October 1st.
Carmichael Gallery‘s next show is Playing Field, a group show of secondary market works. It opens this Saturday, June 18th and runs through August 9th. The line up hits most of the big names you’d expect to see as well as a few surprises: Banksy, Faile, Shepard Fairey, Sixeart, Os Gêmeos, Mark Jenkins, JR, KAWS, Barry McGee, José Parlá, Judith Supine, Swoon, Titi Freak, Dan Witz.
These sort of shows tend to be either really good or really bad. I’m liking the above piece by Barry McGee, so I’m thinking this should fall on the really good side of things. But LA residents can see for themselves starting on Saturday. The opening is from 6-9pm.
So much going on behind the scenes this week for a couple of upcoming events. Can’t wait to say more. Hopefully next week I’ll be able to write about one of them. Here’s what I didn’t have a chance to post about this week: