UPDATE: In the following story, there is an entry for which I earlier credited the Detroit Free Press for having broken a story. Last night I was contacted by Michael Hodges from the Detroit News who politely informed me that it was, in fact, the Detroit News who first published that particular piece. That mistaken entry has been corrected. It's good to see outlets still finding importance in getting credit for breaking a story.
There is a story rich with irony and symbolism unfolding in Detroit. It centers around what could be described as the single biggest shit hole in Detroit, a gallery, a judge and one of the most elusive and mysterious artists on Earth. The artist's name is ... Banksy. And normally, this is the spot at which I would stop and show you what the artist looks like.
Trouble is, no one knows - or can say who he even is for that matter. Wikipedia says Banksy is "believed to be a native of Yate, South Gloucestershire, near Bristol and to have been born in 1974, but his identity is unknown." Another important part of the story is the shit hole. It's the Packard Plant on East Grand Boulevard in Detroit. And it wasn't always a shit hole. At one time, the Packard Plant was the pride of the Midwest.
Not only did the Packard facility crank out some of the finest automobiles the country ever built, it employed tens of thousands of people from the day it opened in the last year of the 19th century, to the year of my birth 52 ago.
Unfortunately ... stuff happened.
And for the last 5 decades this concrete leviathan has been steadily eroding, crumbling, cracking and falling into what it has become today. Looking over 19 year old photographer, Amanda Pascuzzi's shoulder you can see up close what once was a sprawling compound of iron, sweat and brains ... is today a haunted shell that bakes in the sun and is a home fit for only the least discriminating creatures.
Nothing attracts an artist quite like neglect, pain, regret and nostalgia. Enter Banksy. Let me tell you a little about Banksy if you don't already know. He's often referred to as a "Graffiti Artist". You can't look at two or more pieces of his work without wrinkling your nose at that completely inadequate title. If anything, Banksy takes graffiti and makes it into something most real graffiti artists wish they could do. What Banksy does is appear in the night or in the most secreted places, without pronouncement or fanfare, and leaves his mark.
Sometimes he'll take some existing graffiti and give it a breathtaking sense of collision between art and life, and sometimes he just does something nice to help tidy up a spot.
You often don't know if you're looking at life or art with a Banksy work.
And then again you might stumble across a piece that is so ridiculous, and so out of context that you just have to sit down on a park bench and laugh.
So it wasn't any big surprise as much as it was an utter thrill ... and an honor ... when Banksy showed up at the old Packard Plant on East Grand Boulevard in Detroit.
A simple depiction in typical Banksy style. A young, mischievous, African American boy dressed for a downpour with the expression of a rascal without an explanation, a bucket of red paint and the pure, innocent statement:
"I remember when all this was trees."
Word of the precious mural on the dilapidated concrete wall in the middle of a shit hole quickly spread. Quite honestly, it's amazing that it even got spotted, let alone be identified so quickly in such a decrepit, god forsaken labyrinth. And even more precarious was the place Banksy chose to leave his latest statement. Because once Banksy paints something, the next thing that happens if you don't photograph it is that the elements win out and take the art piece to that great blank canvas in the sky. And if you tried to move a Banksy ... Banksy, in whatever coded, relayed message he can send out, will deny ever having anything to do with it - severely devaluing the work. But that didn't stop the art purveyors at 555 Gallery and Studios. A Banksy work in our humble little town, even from atop the piles of rock and rat feces in the center of the biggest shit hole in the city of Detroit, was just too precious to leave to the rain, the rats, and the rapscallions.
They took it. Yep. You betcha they did. Without batting an eye, the Gallery just came and cut the Banksy down, wrapped in saran, and carted it off to a quiet, cool, dry place with the care and curatory skill given the Shroud of Turin, the remains of Tut, and the broken hand of Michelangelo's David.
That might be well where the story would end. But that mural is worth money. Some say even without any further big tadoo, it would be worth a hundred K right out of the box. On an auction podium it could fetch more. And of course the more the story heats up, the higher the price goes. And wouldn't you know, as soon as a price is mentioned, that's when someone comes out of the mist to stake their claim.
Bioresource Inc., the company owned by land speculator Romel Casab, filed suit this week in Wayne County Circuit Court to regain possession of the mural by the internationally known British graffiti artist called Banksy. The painting — a forlorn boy with a can of red paint and the words "I remember when all this was trees" affixed to an 8-foot tall cinder block wall — was removed by artists of 555 Nonprofit Gallery and Studios, where it remains on display in southwest Detroit.
Now you and I both know there ain't no "land speculator" that has any wherewithal to have any kind of notion as to what's art and what isn't, least of all land speculators who also happen to own the biggest shit hole in the city of Detroit. But now, think about it. It's their property! 555 Gallery came along and took a piece of it! There is a twist however. When the Gallery came to retrieve the highly prized Bansky, there was a foreman of a working crew, employed by Bioresource Inc who spoke with them, and eventually gave the Gallery permission to cut the wall down and carry the mischievous boy and his can of red paint away. Of course, Bioresource, in its law suit to get back the valuable work, insists it never gave the foreman authority to provide any such permission. And now it all has to be sorted out by a Detroit judge. Who should get the painting? The Packard Plant owners, who before this Banksy was found, never said a word in public? And in fact, they were such a well hidden outfit, no one even knew who owned the biggest shit hole in Detroit, for sure anyway. Or should it go to 555 Gallery, who saw a thing of beauty and value, who had the expertise to retrieve it safely, and who know how to care for it? And that's where the story ends.
There is one more thing.
Hours after the story broke in the Detroit News that the owners of the Old Packard Plant had come forward and identified themselves in order to file a lawsuit to stake their claim on the Banksy, resting comfortably inside of a climate controlled room in a gallery somewhere ... there was another announcement.
Action Planned Against Old Packard Plant
Plant Abandoned For More Than 50 Years
POSTED: Thursday, July 8, 2010
DETROIT -- Detroit officials say they finally know who owns a long-abandoned car plant and are going to demand something be done about the eyesore.
The city wants the long-abandoned Packard plant demolished and has spent years trying to establish ownership.
That job got easier this week when Bioresource Inc. sued operators of the 555 Arts gallery for the return of an 8-foot section of wall featuring artwork and a message by elusive British graffiti artist Banksy.
Hope they don't settle this too quickly. Because no sooner did the paint dry, and the attorneys sign, that a brand new Banksy appeared not far from the first, just as mischievous, and just as beautiful as the boy who remembered fondly the poplars and oaks that once filled this spot on East Grand Boulevard.
A single yellow bird, in a tiny gilded cage clinging to an antique stand, behind a small hill of clutter, and shit.
So. The story continues. It's crazy when you think that if it weren't for a mysterious, upstart artist sneaking in and scribbling on a wall somewhere inside the biggest shit hole in Detroit, we might never have known who let it get that way. And a few years from now ... where the city's biggest shit hole now stands, there might be all trees!