The Underbelly Project, as its two shadowy curators call it, is an exhibition space the size of a football field that occupies an abandoned subway station somewhere in New York City. The curators, identified in a New York Times piece by the pseudonyms PAC and Workhorse, have spent the last 18 months guiding street artists to the station and supervising them while they completed their pieces. It now has 103 artworks in all, but PAC and Workhorse still aren’t planning on telling anyone how to find it.
The only description the NYT offers on how to arrive at the “an eternal show without a crowd”, as Workhorse calls it, is this:
The difficult process of getting to the Underbelly space – which involves waiting at an active station’s platform until it’s empty, slipping from it into the damp and very dirty no man’s land beyond, and traversing that to get to the old station’s entrance – suggested to PAC and Workhorse how challenging the project would be. And the legal risks were obvious. Charles F. Seaton, a spokesman for New York City Transit, described such incursions as “trespassing, punishable by law,” and said “anyone caught defacing M.T.A. property is subject to arrest and fine.” Beyond that, Workhorse and PAC worried that given anxiety about terrorism in the subway, a large-scale, long-term project like theirs might even lead to more serious charges.
Even after they arrived there, the artists found that actually making art in an abandoned subway station wasn’t exactly easy:
Working conditions were far from favourable. The ambient humidity made stenciling and the wheat-pasting used by some artists laborious…
The Metropolitan Transit Authority would occasionally shut down the nearby subway line. The artists, working through the night, would hear workers on the tracks and go silent, turning out any lights. The members of Faile were among several participants stuck that way for hours after their work (in their case, a woozy, zigzagging version of the Stars and Stripes) was done. “We were getting crazy,” Mr. McNeil recalled. “We were like, ‘We’ve got to get the hell out of this dusty blackness.’ You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face.”
Finally at 4 a.m., Mr. McNeil said, the coast seemed clear, and “we walked out there with our gear”; but the workers were still there. “We just walked by them and they’re like, ‘Where the hell did these guys come from?’”
So what’s the point of creating an art gallery that no one can enjoy? “We do want to preserve the kind of sacred quality of the place,” said PAC, “but we also want people to know it exists. And we want it to become part of the folklore of the urban art scene.” The search is on. [NYT]