Monday, May 17, 2010

Banksy in Detroit

An incident in Detroit raises several questions about street art. Renowned British graffiti artist Banksy visited a crumbling factory in the city and painted a wall.

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.

The gallery defends its action by pointing out that the artwork would have been destroyed soon along with the building. Others respond that Banksy may have intended for that to happen. And then there’s the fact that the context gave the painting it meaning in the first place. One could say that while Banksy broke laws against trespassing and vandalism, the gallery is guilty of theft. The property owner hasn’t said anything about it yet. No one yet knows who, if anyone, stands to profit from the incident. Link

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