Graffiti Artist Banksy who has been making the rounds throughout US cities recently (Los Angeles, Park City for Sundance, Chicago and Toronto) created a work in Detroit which has created a larger debate on the role of public art and its relationship to longevity, location & ownership. In short (and more can be read in depth at The Detroit Free Press) the work was created on one of the walls of the partially demolished Packard Plant in Detroit.
The stenciled work which shows a determined boy holding a red paint can next to the words “I remember when all this was trees” was discovered over the weekend of May 8th and by the 11th the 7′ x 8′ 1,500 pound cinder block wall was excavated by artist from the 555 Nonprofit Gallery & Studios to their grounds near the Ambassador Bridge in Southwest Detroit.
This has caused a stir in Detroit to an extent since it raises the question of did the gallery have either a legal or moral right to remove and relocate the work. What is the role of the work. Is it better to have it remain location specific in the old Packard Plant and risk/enjoy destruction or is it better off in care of some group who would put it on public display. Can that group make a profit on it & first of all can that group legally remove the cinder block material and claim ownership.
Many of these questions have either already legally defined answers that the art world might or might not like (regardless of it’s state the Packard Plant is owned by someone) and other questions as to the role of Banksy’s work in relation to the public are ripe for individual agenda. Regardless each of the questions are very good and lead to a greater debate as to how do we interact and relate to Graffiti Art which is not going away and is getting more refined and focused in it’s execution and voice.
It would be wonderful to hear from Banksy himself as to why he felt that location was optimal for the work and who he expected to see it there. Does he plan to coordinate in the future with galleries when the ownership of the work is in doubt and can easily be claimed? Does he prefer that his work have a limited shelf life or be location specific so as to have a greater contextual impact. I doubt we will hear either way but I am sure regardless of what happens he is loving the energy it has created & there is more to this story to be told.