Banksy was here. But what’s really fascinating is what happened after he left.
The British-born art world celebrity and provocateur, who hides behind a cloak of anonymity and whose graffiti paintings have made headlines from Los Angeles to London, has tagged Detroit — most prominently a crumbling wall at the derelict Packard plant.
Discovered last weekend, the stenciled work shows a forlorn boy holding a can of red paint next to the words “I remember when all this was trees.” But by Tuesday, artists from the 555 Nonprofit Gallery and Studios, a feisty grassroots group, had excavated the 7-by-8-foot, 1,500-pound cinder block wall with a masonry saw and forklift and moved the piece to their grounds near the foot of the Ambassador Bridge in southwest Detroit.
The move — a guerilla act on top of Banksy’s initial guerilla act — has sparked an intense debate about the nature of graffiti art, including complicated questions of meaning, legality, value and ownership. Some say the work should be protected and preserved at all costs. Others say that no one had a right to move it — and that the power and meaning of graffiti art is so intrinsic to its location that to relocate it is to kill it.
Detroit’s unique profile as a kind of laboratory of extreme urban dilapidation and nascent revitalization adds yet another layer of complexity. “This may be unprecedented, because in most other cities, you wouldn’t be able to take a wall home,” said Luis Croquer, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, which specializes in cutting-edge art.
“What does it mean to move a wall? And beyond legality, who does the wall really belong to, and now does the art belong to the gallery? To everybody? To nobody? We’re operating in this space where there’s this lawlessness that opens up possibilities that would be much harder to encounter in other cities.”
Stewards or thieves?
The folks at 555 Gallery and Studios know that not everyone agrees with their decision to move the mural, but they’re adamant they did the right thing. They don’t want to sell it or squirrel it away like a keepsake. They want to protect it and keep it on display for all.
Read the rest, here.