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After 5 Years of touring with 40 venues and millions of fans, like most famous movie stars, life has not been easy. Have you seen #SavingBanksy, the full length movie about this illegal painting that was saved from obliteration by a Hollywood Movie Director?
Fine Art Conservation Laboratories in Santa Barbara received this week an unusual work of art of world fame: 10 graffiti-covered redwood boards that were ripped from the side of a Victorian home on Haight Street in San Francisco.
Spray-painted on the side of the upper story siding, the omni-famous iconic rat is clutching a spray-gun for graffiti, the stenciled work of the yet unidentified outlaw street art superstar Banksy, who took the occasion of a wedding of a friend to promote his new movie in San Francisco in 2010.
Taking down the illegal street art before local statutes for graffiti removal got the property owner in trouble, would have obliterated the famous artwork forever. But once removed, six and seven figure bids were offered for the piece. But the savior of the painting says he can’t sell it without breaking a promise.
Brian Greif’s effort to obtain and restore the painting – and now, to display it publicly – illustrates the fervor that surrounds Banksy’s guerrilla artworks. It also stirs up a complicated debate about street art, its cultural value, and efforts to memorialize and monetize a form of expression that wasn’t intended to last. Yet, removed, it was accessible to a wide and enthusiastic audience (that still got to see the iconic rat for free) and this week it came to the ArtDoctor, Scott M. Haskins after a 5 year tour of over 40 venues and millions of fan views for a check-up.
Banksy wasn’t as mainstream in April 2010 when he made his run through San Francisco, leaving about 10 works in such neighborhoods as the Mission, Chinatown and the Haight. The visit coincided with the release of “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” his Oscar-nominated documentary that prods at the absurdities of the hyper-commercialized art market. After Banksy’s visit, Greif scrambled to see all of the works. But many were already painted over by building owners seeking to comply with city law, which considers graffiti “visual pollution.”
One such business owner was Sami Sunchild, founder of the iconic Red Victorian bed-and-breakfast inn on Haight Street. Banksy, who uses stencils so he can move quickly, painted the rat on the side of the house from the roof of an adjacent building. Sunchild, who died several years ago at age 87, was about to paint over the work when Greif approached her and cut a deal to remove the wood siding. He did so carefully in December 2010, hiring Brothers Collins Woodworking of Cotati, which specializes in historic buildings. Part of the bargain with Sunchild, he said, was a promise that he would take the piece but not sell it.
Street artists regularly paint over each other’s work, but, as Banksy’s popularity grows, so have preservation efforts. Some building owners have covered his works with Plexiglas. Or, as in Greif’s case, people have removed pieces completely. Removing the artwork involved cutting off the building the redwood siding with the “mural” (and then repairing the building to look perfect). Interestingly, as soon as the building was put back into order, someone else took advantage of the featured location in the news and turned into a marketing opportunity to promote discussion.
This week, art restorers Scott Haskins and Virginia Panizzon unpacked the wood siding with the valuable artwork from the Red Victorian at his Santa Barbara lab. Haskins and Panizzon have been restoring major artworks for 40 years. He was the team leader in restoring Gottardo Piazzoni’s “The Sea” and “The Land” murals, which were painstakingly removed from San Francisco’s old Main Library and now sit in the new de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. He has consulted on Banksy restorations in the past and said the rat painting shouldn’t require much work. “It’s basically a preservation and reassembly of the piece. It is in not bad condition and looks good,” Haskins said.
His plan is to keep the work light and portable using “airplane technology” – affixing the slats to 1-inch-thick aluminum honeycomb material. Greif doesn’t want the piece to look new. Instead, he wants to preserve the street-art aesthetic. He wants the piece to look like it did on the side of the Red Victorian. “When we’re done, it’s going to look like you are standing on the rooftop looking at the wall,” Haskins said.
Preserving and restoring the piece correctly and respectfully was one task. But setting up the venues for public display was a bit difficult, at the beginning, said Greif. But once it was known that the popular artwork was available for exhibit, the rat became a celebrity and toured over 40 venues in 5 years. Still, institutional attitude, a thing that Banksy hates, was rampant in 2010.
As he discovered, curators were particular about their use of gallery space – and the context in which art is displayed. Besides the fact that planning gallery space occurred years in advance, they got sidestepped with comments like (Greif was in talks with SFMOMA and the de Young) “You’ve got to be considerate (about) if it was the artist’s intent,” said Zarobell, who was curator at SFMOMA when Greif made his inquiries. He said he contacted Banksy’s people and found that the artist apparently didn’t want the work shown in a museum… duh!!!
Though not looked at seriously in 2010, I wonder what would be their response to its availability now that Banksy is the most famous street artist in the world that captures the attention of millions?
Greif continues with his project, finding the rat new opportunities. Greif’s only stipulation, as given him by Banksy: The work must be seen publicly, for free. “Street art,” he said, “is made to look at and talk about.” One man’s effort to obtain, restore, and publicly display the street artist’s guerrilla artworks illustrates the fervor that surrounds this social movement. Never has it been more popular and more discussed… even in the digital worlds. More on that later.
Thoughts have been discussed about providing this work of art for public ownership through NFTs (digital collectibles). What do you think?
Questions? Call Scott M. Haskins 805 570 4140
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