Saturday, May 19, 2012

Banksy's disappearing art: going underground to NYC's neglected spaces

Jeff Stark's table for two, at an undisclosed subway stop

According to the New York Times, graffiti artist Banksy is now facing the dilemma of the inherently impermanent artist: his work is being painted over and otherwise removed from the city's public spaces. When public space is the gallery, sooner or later the issue of civic reclamation will arise. As artists from the cave-painters of Lescaux to graffiti-man Banksy can tell you, public art calls for big, big spaces. 
In New York those big public spaces are likely to be underground, and sometimes in areas currently abandoned. Location, location, location -- but even underground spaces can attract the attention of civic forces who attempt to discourage visitors, and threaten artists themselves with dismantling art or even the specter of arrest for those who try to see it.
The New York Times Arts Beat carries an article about what might be considered the most exclusive of public galleries, a subway station so mysteriously secret and filled with art that police arrest anyone who tries to find it.
In an official game of good cop/bad cop, a spokeswoman from the Transit Authority confirms the department is not disturbing the art works, but the police are "taking a hard line" and arresting anyone who is caught trespassing in the station trying to see the art. It's a creative double-bind: seek but don't find, and if you do find it, you're under arrest for trespassing. There's a Kafka-like lesson in there somewhere.
The underground effort took eighteen months and includes work from more than a hundred artists. One blogger who has seen the "installation" now reports the art has been vandalized. Who said art was easy? Here's an excerpt from today's article, written by Michael Grynbaum:

The New York City police have arrested 20 people for trying to enter the abandoned subway station that is home to the formerly secret guerrilla exhibition of underground street art that was revealed to the public this month.
The clandestine gallery has attracted urban explorers eager to catch a glimpse of dozens of provocative, large-scale installations created by more than 100 street artists who sneaked into the station over the course of a year.
Several of these spelunkers, however, have encountered something else: a team of police officers, some in plain clothes, assigned by the city to monitor the site. Most of those arrested were charged with criminal trespass, and a few were caught carrying spray cans and other graffiti paraphernalia, the authorities said. Two others received transit summonses.
While the police are taking a hard line on keeping people away — “This is not an art gallery; this is completely illegal,” said one officer – the paintings of what the artists called the Underbelly Project are likely to live on. Subway officials said they have no plans to paint over the artwork, even if they sincerely hope nobody ever gets to see it again.
“We have no intention of disturbing the works,” said Deirdre Parker, a spokeswoman for New York City Transit, the subway’s operator. Ms. Parker noted that the fiscally challenged transit agency would not want to devote resources to restoring a space almost entirely unseen by the riding public. “It’s in complete darkness and not really at all visible to anyone,” she added.

The organizers of the project, who did not return a request for comment, have so far refused to disclose the location. So have transit officials. But first-person accounts, photographs, and speculation around the Internet focus squarely on an abandoned station constructed in the 1930s atop the existing Broadway stop on the G line, near South Fourth Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. ...
So far, efforts by the authorities to secure the space have appeared only partly successful. Evidence ofrecent visits to the site has been published on the Internet, including photographs that suggest some ofthe artwork has been defaced by graffiti.
One blogger from Brooklyn, who said he explored the site in the early hours of Nov. 4, posted photographs on his Web site that appeared to show vandalized works. “It does seem to only have been tagged by one person and it’s actually kind of sad since some of the works are so amazing,” the blogger wrote in an e-mail. (He asked to remain anonymous, hoping to avoid interest from the authorities.)

Photos from the New York Times by Garrett (at bottom) and Katherine Lorimer (at top).

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