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Ryan Mendoza, “The White House” (2015-2016) installed at Art Rotterdam (photo via @joepvandermade/Instagram)

Last month, Berlin-based Ryan Mendoza pissed off a lot of people when he tore down an abandoned house in Detroit and shipped the structure off for display at this year’s Art Rotterdam. The reassembled result, dubbed “The White House,” will soon find permanent residence at the Verbeke Foundation in Belgium, and Mendoza remains in Europe, but miles away in Detroit remain unsightly, messy residuals of Mendoza’s partial uprooting — and the many residents furious with a property that furthers perceptions of their city as a place of only ruins.

As the Detroit Free Press’  Mark Stryker first reported, locals began expressing concern over the city officials in late fall. In December, the city council added it to Detroit’s emergency demolition list, flagging it as a building that must come down immediately. Holding responsibility for clearing the lot, however, is its owner, who is actually not Mendoza, but one Gregory L. Johnson, who gave the artist the building’s facade to use for his controversial project. Mendoza had reportedly told neighbors the space would be completely stripped of its skeletal remains after completing his work, but the clutter has since lingered for months and bred a larger mess of its own.

“It was never my intention to leave the house partially deconstructed,” Mendoza told Detroit Free Press. “Unfortunately, the demolition company I employed suspended its activities over the winter months due to the cold and is only now beginning to reactivate its operation.

“I am frustrated that the neighbors have to endure the ghastly sight of what is left of 20194 Stoepel … I hope they see things differently once the house does get taken down.”

Mendoza had hired Harley K. Brown, a businessman who over a decade ago was involved in some shady company management, to demolish the house. According to Detroit Free Press, Brown said Johnson was uncertain whether he wanted to actually fully deconstruct the house or refurbish it. The push from locals, however, is placing heavy pressure on the city, and Johnson may not have the time he wants to make a decision.

“The owner needs to finish the demolition of this house quickly or else the city will demolish it for him and send him the bill,” Craig Fahle, Detroit Land Bank Authority’s director of public affairs said. “This type of thing is no longer acceptable in the City of Detroit.”

While Mendoza is not legally responsible for the disheveled property, he did instigate the ensuing chaos, and locals Detroit Free Press interviewed do hold him culpable. Still, last October wasn’t the last Detroit’s denizens will have seen of him: the artist is reportedly returning soon with his wife who has steadily captured the process of “The White House” for a documentary, which the Detroit Institute of Arts will screen in early April. As a bonus, Mendoza will also organize a weeklong series of “art happenings” concerning the house.

Update, 3/29: As Detroit Free Press reported, the Detroit Land Bank Authority hired a city crew to demolish the house yesterday. A spokesman for the mayor said the city is seeking a judge’s order to have Mendoza foot the bill.

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Claire Voon

Claire Voon is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Singapore, she grew up near Washington, D.C. and is now based in Chicago. Her work has also appeared in New York Magazine, VICE, Gothamist, Artnews, Smithsonian Magazine,...

2 replies on “The Artist Who Moved a Detroit House to Europe Left a Mess Behind [UPDATED]”

  1. Taken out of context the house is less than it was. Maybe Mendoza should have brought Detroit to Rotterdam and left the house in Michigan. The would have been impressive. Or more realistically he could have brought the mess he left behind to Rotterdam and restored the house in Detroit.

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