Real estate developers whitewashing or tearing down walls covered in graffiti is a familiar narrative, but it appears we may have reached such an advanced stage in the cooptation of street art that those days will soon be at an end. Philadelphia-based real estate developer MM Partners is currently turning the long-vacant (and mural-filled) Pyramid Electric Supply Company building in Brewerytown into condos, and in a post on Instagram yesterday the company promised to save a mural by artist Caroline Caldwell so that it “will be a feature wall in someone’s bedroom.”
“I know this won’t be the popular opinion, but I love this piece and I’m stoked it’s getting to live on,” Caldwell said in response to the news on Twitter. Indeed, aside from the occasional act of accidental preservation, as happened with a long-lost Keith Haring mural that turned up in a $17 million Lower Manhattan loft, a developer choosing to preserve rather than scrub away a building’s street art is relatively unheard of — though that didn’t stop the developer who leveled 5Pointz from trying to use the graffiti center’s name to market the apartments rising from its rubble.
“I used to live a few blocks from the Pyramid Electric Factory,” said RJ Rushmore, a street art authority (and Hyperallergic contributor) who called our attention to the MM Partners post. “It’s an easy building to get into and provides easy access to trackside spots along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, so it’s a popular building for graffiti writers and urban explorers. Nearly half the time I visited, I’d run into other people inside. Usually not painting, but just exploring or even using it as a dance studio.”
In addition to Caldwell’s neon-hued rat and cobra, which are destined to live on as someone’s bedroom wall art (#betterthanIKEA), much of the rest of the Pyramid Electric building’s murals are also slated for preservation. “[MM Partners have] been supportive of public art for a few years now, working with Steve Powers’s ICY Signs shop, the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, and independent muralists,” Rushmore added. “Actually, in a way, this is the second of Caroline’s pieces that has fallen into MM’s hands. A few years ago, she was commissioned to paint an interior mural at Brewerytown Beats, the local record store. When they moved their store to a new location, the mural stayed. So far as I know, it’s still there.”
“We 100% intend to keep a good amount of the art that is in the building and integrate into our development,” David Waxman, a founding and managing partner of MM Partners, told Hyperallergic via email. “We as a company are committed to bringing good contemporary art to the neighborhood where we build in Philadelphia, Brewerytown and into our projects. We also happen to love art and are collectors ourselves.”
A photo posted by mmpartners (@mmpartners) on