The next level of street art
November 2, 2010 6:56 AM   Subscribe

Generally, the Arts & Design section of the New York Times talks about reviews, gallery openings, ballet performances, open-air concerts, and the latest violin virtuoso. But sometimes art isn't in museums, galleries, parks, or on the sides of buildings - it’s where you can’t go.

In the abandoned and uncompleted underground passageways of the New York Metro, there is an exclusive we-can’t-tell-you-where gallery of 103 artworks. Murals, tags, and graffiti, not unlike what we see on the sides of boxcars that we stare mindlessly at as the train goes through the railroad crossing. While some feel that this is just simple vandalism, others praise it as mainstream avant-garde art - certainly got Bansky some extra work. Even primitive cave dwellers did it, and we view their works today as important cultural artifacts.
Getting down into the area to see these artworks - which are not for sale, and not advertised who they are by - is harrowing, to say the least. The dangers range from simple rats to physical harm and death - if you get hurt, there is nobody coming to save you. The Transit Authority takes an obvious dim view of people going into these areas, and promises to prosecute anyone caught, either to add to the art or to just view it.
posted by Old'n'Busted (18 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not a fan of graffiti per say, but found this subject interesting to say the least.
And before anyone says it again, I'm aware of the relationship to my name with regards to the locale of the subject matter.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 6:58 AM on November 2, 2010

Did those caves belong to someone other than the artist? If not, then they are not examples of important cultural artifacts that could be viewed as simple vandalism. Maybe ancient Roman graffiti would be a better example (or maybe not).
posted by DU at 7:06 AM on November 2, 2010

Does something about this feel a bit "off" to anybody else?

Abandoned spaces in NYC don't stay clean or unoccupied for very long, unless there's somebody watching, no matter how deep or obscure the location might be. Given the widespread corruption/underfunding of the TA/MTA over the years, it was also fairly common to use unused spaces as garbage dumps.

Why did this space remain untouched, and why did they go through such great lengths to hide its location, but felt perfectly comfortable posting an extensive set of photographs of the space?

(My only guess is that it's unusually deep, which narrows down where it could be to just a few places: one of the unfinished segments the 2nd Ave Subway, or the LIRR's portion of the 63rd St Tunnel, although both should have been overrun by construction workers by now...)
posted by schmod at 7:38 AM on November 2, 2010

Yeah I keep feeling like we're not hearing the whole story caus ethe MTA is pretty ontop of making sure people aren't sulking around in unused stations.

I smell a plant.
posted by The Whelk at 7:44 AM on November 2, 2010

In a few places, the article seemed to imply that it was pretty deep, or that some other sort of physical obstacle was present, when it mentioned that equipment was needed to get in and out.

Anyone want to try to find it?
posted by meows at 7:48 AM on November 2, 2010

This article felt a bit off to me too. Mostly for the childish buried lede, teasing the reader the first few paragraphs about this hip new gallery before revealing the fact it's in an unauthorized space. The headline editor didn't think much of that either, giving it away in the title. Anyway it all felt a bit too precious.

I love street art and I'm excited to see people in New York get beyond the 1980s style graffiti bombs to more interesting contextual stuff. But it's not exactly street art if it's buried underground where no one can see it other than in photographs published in the New York Times, of all places. Cool project and some of the pieces look great, just a bit baffling.
posted by Nelson at 8:33 AM on November 2, 2010

The "pretty deep" detail is actually fairly relevant. Most of NYC's subway system was built using cut-and-cover methods, making it fairly shallow. They also mention accessing the abandoned facility from an active subway platform, where there also happen to be construction workers nearby

Deep-bore tunneling is also fantastically expensive, and usually doesn't incorporate stations with rectangular walls, columns, or ceilings (ie. Roosevelt Island). The architecture does remind you of a NYC subway station though.

Also, there are doors leading to the "trackbed," which is a somewhat odd feature. Maybe it's an old industrial facility with a rail siding?

Oh, and the dead giveaway? The platforms are WAY too short.
posted by schmod at 8:40 AM on November 2, 2010

In my original draft, I had the phrase "Painting on walls is nothing new", but had removed it. Perhaps I should have left it in. In any case I've heard more than once cave paintings being compared to interior wall graffiti in that it represents what is going on, culturally, at that specific point in time, so I was taking a generous "long view" on it. Some univerities offer courses and lectures in analyzing graffiti artwork - for example, UBC's Sociological Analysis of Graffiti.

schmod: that sounds logical. I was also curious about the general cleanliness of it, but had just assumed that it had been cleaned up in prep for the "showing", because anywhere that close to easy access (and workers) I would have expected hobos.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 8:49 AM on November 2, 2010

DU: "Did those caves belong to someone other than the artist?"

New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority seems to think so. Bottom of page 1:
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.”
posted by LogicalDash at 9:02 AM on November 2, 2010

Subway graffiti experts are leaning towards the abandoned station under the South 4th Street stop in Williamsburg as the location.
posted by black rainbows at 9:12 AM on November 2, 2010

By "those caves" I mean the ones in Lascaux, France. Ancient cave drawings are only vandalism if the caves were owned by someone other than the artist.
posted by DU at 9:13 AM on November 2, 2010

Well, I'll be damned. Unless this is an incredibly elaborate prank, it's definitely South 4th St.

It's not deep, and dates back to the 1930s, back when NYC was still attempting to build the IND Second System. (Most of it got scrapped, and the parts of it that were saved are still under construction. Yes. Since 1930)
posted by schmod at 10:14 AM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

So that's why the G is so isolated and wired. It was supposed to be the main spoke in a huge expansion that got scrapped.

Now I can hate it even more.
posted by The Whelk at 10:18 AM on November 2, 2010

Sure looks like it! Now I think that the artists' fear that collectors will come and start tearing out chunks of wall (and thus vandalizing the vandalism) is going to come true.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 10:20 AM on November 2, 2010

This is cool!

The idea of simply doing what you want to do, without permission, secret "for reasons of feasibility" strongly recalls the stuff of UX, in Paris. (self-link!)
posted by Marquis at 10:25 AM on November 2, 2010

What feels off about it to me it seems like a form of self-promotion that claims to above self-promotion. If they'd really wanted to throw an art party for themselves completely in private, that's what they would have done. Instead, they brought a reporter and professional photographers in.

These people know very well that "we're doing this in secret so YOU can't see it" is just going to generate demand and buzz. It strikes me as a cynical gesture intended to make fans and street art collectors salivate.
posted by treepour at 1:38 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

treepour, I know you were criticizing it, but you just summed up what I love about this. On one level, it can claim "art for art's sake" more purely than just about anything. But on another level, it's going through an absurd amount of work to please an audience. I like that.
posted by roll truck roll at 4:57 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

But on another level, it's going through an absurd amount of work to please an audience. I like that.

Erm, I way late to respond!

Just want to say that I don't think our views are that far apart -- maybe it's just that you're giving them the benefit of the doubt where I'm not.

I'd say they're going through a reasonable amount of work to tease -- not please -- their audiences. To me, that's a big difference, when teasing is likely to result in a huge increase in both fan-related-buzz and market value for their future works. That's why I'm accusing them of cynicism -- while I think it's possible they've deluded themselves into thinking their fucking the art market over, I think their eyes are really on their own bottom lines.

However, I'll fully admit I may be, in this case at least, a totally uncharitable scrooge.
posted by treepour at 11:25 PM on November 5, 2010

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