Banksy does Detroit

The recently-applied work of street artist Banksy at an abandoned Packard auto plant in Detroit, Michigan. A local gallery promptly dug up and relocated the wall to their space, sparking controversy.

(via Oxblood Ruffin).

Update: Here's a photo of the Detroit Banksy after relocation. (thanks, Michael David Murphy)


  1. The gallery trying to pretend it’s not about money is bullshit. They just want the fame for their business by having a Banksy.

    But it’s hard to see that removing a wall nobody wanted from a site nobody was claiming can be wrong.

    Really the person who should be most concerned about this is Banksy himself. He needs to figure out a way to do art that isn’t immediately appropriated by chartlatans.

  2. Maybe the act of stealing this “art” is in itself and act of “art”. I’m sure there’s plenty of people happy to pay to see this. I’m not one of them.

  3. The whole Banksy thing always annoys me. Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s a great artist, and very clever, but It seems a lot of the hype about his work boils down to the fact that it’s Banksy’s work, not the fact that it’s a great piece of artwork.
    This, of cause, isn’t something unique to Banksy. It just irks me that people buy art for the signature in the corner.

    1. “It just irks me that people buy art for the signature in the corner.”

      I totally agree and Banksy does too. I just saw Banksy’s documentary “Exist Through the Gift Shop” yesterday. It was an excellent witty critique of the “art” scene while at the same time a defense of himself and his art without ever being pretentious. I can’t recommend it enough!

        1. Exist Through the Gift Shop” seems like it would be pretty appropriate too, though, no?

  4. Calling Banksy’s work art is a bit strong, to my mind; though I know opinions differ. The craft is good (though nothing special), and I often get a cartoon-esque chuckle from it, but it doesn’t provoke an aesthetic reaction from me, at least.

    In any case, this piece surely derives what power it has from its original context: putting it in a gallery misses the point by a long, long way.

    (I’d have written “I remember when this was all factories”, myself; maybe that’s just one reason why I’m not a trendy street artist.)

    1. Or how about: “I remember when this was all jobs”

      Not grammatically correct, but hey I’m being artsy.

    2. I’d have gone for ‘I remember when this was all streets’. Be more apropos for Detroit.

    3. I always get a kick out of someone including the word ‘craft’ in their critique of some piece of art they don’t really like.

      You might not even necessarily mean it exactly this way, but its used so often as an attempt to cheapen a piece of artwork…. as if craft is something to abhor in ‘real’ art.

  5. Somebody tagged a Banksy I often pass. Now it’s hidden under thick plywood bolted to the wall.

    And the plywood has been heavily tagged.

  6. relocating a controversial guerilla street art itself could be seen as an act of controversial guerilla street performance art?

  7. exit through the giftshop was all an elaborate hoax. the man in the film who did the interviews as banksy is not really banksy. other ppl have pointed this out after seeing the film. he and real banksy in the tagging videos are built differently. bcs the tagging videos are at night you don’t notice as long as they cut quickly. and the mr. brainwash story is so full of holes, but there isn’t enough time to get into it. so much of it is complete fiction though.

    exit through the giftshop is the film version of what banksy does with visual art: it’s all a huge huge pisstake. ppl who take banksy seriously are…silly.

  8. At a Packard plant? Is this more commentary on post-war corporate management or current environmental practices?

  9. Huh, that little boy doesn’t look like he’s over 103 years old!!

    (That packard plant was built in 1907.)

  10. It’s a lovely painting, but once moved from the context so much is lost… the domestication of wild art is one of the great tragedies of modern times.

    1. Ahh, wild art. I remember when I was but a wee lad and me Grandpappy would sit me down and tell me tales of the wild art herds that would roam the prairie. He would tell me of the majestic Monets, some of the largest and gentlest of the bunch. The vicious and ferocious Pollocks that would attack suddenly and unpredictably. The Picassos that you couldn’t help but feel sorry for due to their high rate of birth defects. And the Dalis, always lounging around on trees, practically melting off of things.

      Those were the good ol’ days. It’s a pity the only art I can see now is in museums. What I would give to be able to open my window in the morning and watch an easel of Renoirs pass by.


  11. To be fair, the message works pretty much anywhere in the USA… it’s likely the gallery it got moved to used to be trees, too.

  12. In my opinon if you take a piece of street art and then put it in a sterile art gallery then it misses the point completely … and it probably its really art anymore.

  13. On second thought, there’s no justifying this. The “I remember” part makes it sort of personal (even if, as dculberson points out, it’s not true), and thus makes the site selected significant for context.

  14. This doesn’t get brought up too often, but how do we know this is actually a Banksy? Banksy doesn’t necessarily take credit for all his works, and since he remains anonymous and works through a layer of proxies, it seems to me that planting fake Banksys would be a fairly easy undertaking. His style is not that difficult to emulate, it’s only spray paint templates, juxtaposition of elements, and inflammatory political statement. Hardly something he has a lock on.

    1. Word. Look up Os Gemeos from Brazil-that’s graffiti that beautifies urban decay versus attention-seeking for gallery shows.

  15. Detroit probably has as many trees as it ever did. They grow through the roofs of abandoned buildings. It’s quite pretty, in a surreal way.

    1. trees growing from abandoned buildings, even the upper stories, are my most vivid memory from growing up in Detroit. surely contributing to my fascination with ‘gamma world’, zombie films, and post-apocalyptic fiction. i still have trouble keeping away from an abandoned building…

  16. A lot of the comments above suggest that what Banksy does isn’t “real art” somehow. Aesthetic impact and technique are just two dimensions that art can be evaluated in. I would argue that they are two of the more superficial dimensions. A painter who can recreate images in oils or acrylic with photo quality detail and accuracy is always impressive. However if their subject matter fails to connect with the viewer, it is only momentarily impressive. The actual paintings are only one component of Banksy’s works. As people above have noted, the more critical component is the environment he adds the painting to. The context, sometimes environmental and sometimes political, allows viewers to “connect” with his graphical wit. That connection is why people remember his work. Most artists create all their lives and never succeed in connecting with people the way Banksy does.

  17. Exit Through The Gift Shop will be at UICA in Grand Rapids, Michigan starting August 6. It will be playing for at least a week. For more info, you can visit

  18. Reading that article was just surreal. The city can’t find out who owns a 3.5 million square foot complex, the only lead being someone in jail for drug charges. The gallery is out grabbing walls to protect artists. The artist, who is anonymous, hasn’t even claimed the work. The setting is an abandoned auto plant, a symbol of a nation in decline. The art itself is (I gather) a comment on the over-development that comes with industry, and perhaps the ugliness of beauracracy.

    Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut are alive and well and working in Detroit.

  19. It’s ironic that the piece was removed from its location to be preserved for posterity, considering it seems to be reminding us of the transitory nature of much of our creations.

    Up until only a hundred years ago it was trees, and it will soon be trees again as the entropy seeps in and digests mankind’s attempts at civilization.

    For me, it evokes a feeling of serenity.

  20. Did anyone else notice the graffiti in the fourth photo – “AGGRESSION SHATTERS INTO VACANT SADNESS”? It seems more poignant than the Banksy, especiially given how bold that city once was, and how vacant and sad it looks now.

  21. Yeah, he hit up a spot down the street from my friend, we went to scope it a couple weekends ago after a party, and to our drunken dismay, some asshole covered it. It was a rat tightrope walking on what appeared to be the actual, real life, chain that was strung in front of the wall he bombed.

    It was only like 8″ max, but for some reason it scared someone… you know, that whole culture thing. God forbid we have rampant culture in this country.

  22. ISTM that the PROPPER response to that work of art would be to plant a few saplings around it.

  23. Without the context it was placed in it is
    nothing more than studio detritus.Jackson Pollock’s paint brush, part of the true cross…there is always a market for that sort of thing…

  24. this story has become even more ridiculous since this happened weeks (months?) ago. another banksy was “discovered” in the packard complex and then the “owner” of the building hired a bunch of goons to guard and then remove it himself. by coming forward to sue the gallery that removed the original and taking the second for himself, the owner has exposed himself to liability for the demolition of the entire complex that would cost a fortune.

    there have also been weird rumors that Michael Bay wants to use the site to film parts of Transformers 3 and is excited because he can blow up as much of it as he wants; some other guy wants to use some of the buildings (that were vacated by Packard in the 1950s) to build some kind of newfangled green car. we’ll see.

    the place is a dump, and I feel for the people who have to live near it. parts of it are always on fire and the illegal dumping is outrageous inside and out. I have seen entire busloads of french tourists wandering around the place as well as countless suburban douchebags “exploring” it. it’s probably our #3 tourist attraction right now after motown and the heidelberg project.

  25. I think this thread and the pasteurized milk thread could be merged somehow. Dangers of pasteurized art versus raw art maybe?

  26. Wow, what wild rebellious art…oh wait, it is just another rich guy’s investment oppurtunity now.

    This was supposed to be temporary, like a sand mandala, not stuck in some snobbish gallery.

  27. Someone should set up a fake wall in its place and tag:


  28. Art is Subjective folks; Galleries are a money making biz and are a by-product of our capitalist ideals – don’t be a hater unless you live simply and do not intend to make much money in your lifetime. That being said, the concrete itself has no true value without the backdrop. Banksy’s work, from never having seen it and not knowing who he is, is actually thought provoking…I wanted to look at it more closely. Hate it or love it…Art should never be completely defined…once you do that you will have compartmentalized the two abilities in life worth more than money to some…Imagination and Creativity.
    Some folks here are driven mad by name recognition! God forbid you make a name for yourself in life. Does it really bother you to see an Artist recognized? This bother is truly envy.

  29. Looks like the one on the side of Amnesia on Mission. Whatever one may think about his artistic merits, his work has the wit to generate at least a wry smile. Let’s face it, there’s not much to grin about otherwise at an abandoned car-plant, is there?

  30. Apologies in advance, Byron:
    “Dull is the eye that will not weep to see
    Thy walls defaced, thy mouldering shrines removed
    By 555 hands, which it had best behoved
    To guard those relics ne’er to be restored.”

    Long history of this kind of thing. There are those who believe the Elgin Marbles are best appreciated within the protective confines of the British Museum, rather than out in that sun-baked rubble heap in Athens. There are those who disagree.

    Personally, though the high regard and monetary value given to Banksy’s works perplex me no end, I’m of the camp that believes that this particular work is stripped of all of its value and point by being removed from its “natural habitat.” By no means do I intend to elevate Banksy to the level of the nameless architects of the Parthenon, but when I saw the Elgin Marbles, lovely as they were, they seemed to have lost a great deal of something ineffable. Rather than being sculpture qua sculpture, many of the Elgins are architectural elements that are most effective as part of the structure. Of course, said structure is a ruin, so there wouldn’t have been much gained by leaving the Marbles strewn wherever they fell after the ammo dump went up… but still. Banksy’s piece needs the wreck of the Packard plant as a referent; it’s about the ruin as a ruin, and as the bustling macro-capitalistic plant it was before, and as the idyllic wilderness it presumably was before that. Context is everything.

    Now the 555 gallery has scavenged themselves some decaying masonry covered with paint, which used to convey a poignant message. Now the piece needs to be explained, where before it needed no explanation. Now the piece needs a little sign nearby, with a picture showing what and where the piece USED to be. And presumably explaining why the gallery felt moved to dig it up and destroy it by “preserving” it.

  31. Considering the art that Banksy left in San Francisco was destroy by local “artists” within hours, I’m all for this non-profit gallery preserving it.

  32. It doesn’t seem to dawn on people that art is fundamentally about questions, and this is something that Banksy is really nailing. This is a pandora’s box full of questions, and he (or she or it) is being really smart by remaining enigmatic.

    Banksy is the Subcommandante Marcos of the art world. By having his work be the only voice he uses, and not explaining things and telling us what we’re supposed to be thinking about it, he forces us to live up to our part of the conversation. Think of all the things this is touching on: post empire America, the collapse of an american city, the nature of art and its relationship to its distribution channels, whether context is important, whether site is important, is he just some (very skilled) vandal or prankster, or does he have an agenda? Does he care that it’s been removed from its original site? He’s not interpreting this for us, we have to do it ourselves, and there are many many different answers to arrive at, and our answers will change as we have different experiences.

    For me this is art as a living thing, it’s something that resists definition. I think that’s what makes it a piece of genius- it’s a terribly simple yet brilliantly strategic act, like the kung fu death touch. These ripples of puzzlement are evidence that the guy really did something special.

  33. I remember when was a flash site with a seemingly self written biographical blurb.

  34. I like Banksy stuff because it’s cheeky and the artist doesn’t tell us how to enjoy it. The thought of people tearing out walls to install in a gallery is ridiculous. Take a fucking photograph. If the artist were worried about it being exposed to the elements, then they wouldn’t have put it there!

  35. Again, I don’t want to overstate the importance of this… but it puts me in mind of a gallery carefully carving Jesus out of Leonardo’s Last Supper in order to “preserve” Him, once the mausoleum became a refectory and the mural really began to disintegrate.

    Woulda been a stupid Philistine idea then. It still is now. I’m no art critic, but I think the idea that this work has more than a small fraction of its power when divorced from its setting… well, it’s a wrong idea. Just look at it, sitting there in its lovely new Home Depot frame in what looks for all the world like a suburban Van Nuys parking lot. Hell, there are even vestigial trees.

  36. “To be fair, the message works pretty much anywhere in the USA…”

    There’s plenty of places here in California or around the Southwest, or, heck, even in the Plains states where the cities have more trees than they ever did naturally. Forests are not the only natural environment.

  37. “I’m sure there’s plenty of people happy to pay to see this. I’m not one of them.”

    The banksy “I remember” is available at the 555 gallery for free viewing to anyone who wishes to see it in the gallery and was not an act of praise or publicity. Heres the scoop, it’s a Detroit gallery preserving a piece of banksy art for Detroiter’s to appreciate in a family friendly, safe, legal viewing environment. The police dont et out of their cars in the neighborhood it was in and the fire dept. just lets the palce burn its so dangerous. The person(s) who took banksy here were *&^% stupid. The only act taking place here is of artists preserving art. the other banksy piece at this location was taken by a principal interest who claimed to be the owner of the location who intended to auction it off. This principal is now under investigation for the years of neglect of the Packard plant which could cost him and his corporation up to $20 million in fees for the Demolition of the site.

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