BITS: Art for Art’s Sake and Art for Espianage


This past week, Vandalog,  and The New York Times (amongst very few others) reported on a very elite art viewing experience. This was not for folks with paddles, not for Armani-suited champagne-sippers, and not even for the hippest hipsters, consulting Flavor Pill and attending the latest Winkle and Balktick events.

TrustoCorp Photo by RJ Rushmore. See more thorough coverage of this story and lots of amazing photos by Mr. Rushmore, Workhorse, and PAC on the Vandalog site.

Nope. This was for a select group of intrepid insiders. Journalists, who were, by invitation only, escorted into the unhallowed depths of our unfair city to view an art show that was created soley for, and in tribute to, art itself.

Gracing the dank walls of an abandoned subway station, and viewable only by hi-powered flashlight, the works that comprise The Underbelly Project were created by these top-notch street artists (among others):

Know Hope
Dan Witz
Jeff Soto
Mark Jenkins

It’s all of four stories below the street, according to Vandalog’s R.J. Rushmore, who writes, “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.”

Curated by Workhorse and PAC, seasoned street artists, the “show” was created to re-instill a sense of intrigue to an artistic genre that used to be all about defiance and freedom but has become simply another market vehicle. The Underbelly Project is refreshingly dangerous because it was illegal to make it, and it’s illegal to go see it.

Prediction: the city, tipped off by the NYTimes and Vandalog stories, will rip open the site, nip off the walls, and sell them at great profit. The artists involved will be aggrieved. The readers of this piece will hope for a show before the booty goes to auction.



On Sunday, The Independent reported that the CIA used Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko as secret weapons against Communism during the cold war.

In brief, the cynical, modern art despising American government, decided that one of the biggest assets the U.S. had going for it, both in its own view, and in the world’s, was that of intellectual and creative freedom. And what better to represent that freedom besides hyper-intellectual abstract expressionist canvases and jazz music?

But open support for abstract art failed as the 1947 “Advancing American Art” tour, conceived as a rebuttal to Soviet scoffing that implied that America had no culture,  had to be cancelled when it caused public outrage. Seen as a waste of tax dollars, even president Truman said of it, “If that’s art, then I’m a Hottentot.”

Advancing American Art: Painting, Politics, and Cultural Confrontation at Mid-Century by Taylor D. Littleton and Maltby Sykes


When the ironically clueless American public spat in the face of modern art, stealth was enlisted. The CIA stepped in. Armed with a Harvard-educated staff of poets and scribblers, the NYT notes, “If any official institution was in a position to celebrate the collection of Leninists, Trotskyites and heavy drinkers that made up the New York School, it was the CIA.”

It was a particularly stealth movement, as America was in an extremely censorious mood during the McCarthy era, with artists blacklisted and threatened on a regular basis.  Former case officer, Donald Jameson, told the New York Times that CIA support of ab-ex art had to be done from three for four removes, lest they find themselves “having to clear Jackson Pollack.”


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