A mural Banksy painted in New Orleans that was defaced multiple times has been restored, having undergone careful conservation as if it were a centuries-old fresco. “Looters,” as the work has come to be called, was removed from its original site on the exterior wall of a warehouse in 2014 and placed in the hands of local conservator Elise Grenier, who has worked in Italy for most of her career, on sites ranging from the Florence Cathedral to the Badia Fiorentina.
Owned by real estate developer Sean Cummings, the piece is currently still in storage but will be temporarily on display this weekend at one of Cummings’s properties, the International House Hotel near the French Quarter. Grenie noted, in a press release, that it is “generally in good condition, considering its history,” explaining that she recovered key details although others are lost.
“Looters,” which depicts two National Guardsmen carrying electronics out of a residence, is one of 14 pieces of street art Banksy left behind after a 2008 visit to New Orleans. Upon their completion, the artist released a statement noting that the series was his response to Fred Radtke, a vigilante who covered up street art with gray paint and was known as “The Gray Ghost” around town. “Three years after Katrina I wanted to make a statement about the state of the clean up operation,” Banksy added.
The artist painted “Looters” on a building owned by Sean Cummings, who had received a tip that Banksy was interested in painting on his property and, unsurprisingly, approved the act, as The Times-Picayune reported. But others, it seemed, did not appreciate the work: as puzzle maker John S. Stokes III has diligently documented, people added their own graffiti, wheatpaste posters, and paint to the mural over the next couple of years.
Cummings, who had applied a coat of clear varnish to the work shortly after it was finished, decided to try to recover as much of the original as he could by sending it off to restoration professionals in 2014. He hired men to cut the painted section from the wall and sent it to the New Orleans Conservation Guild. A fire, however, broke out in the building shortly after, and the Banksy was eventually moved to a warehouse for Grenier to begin her work.
Using photographs as sources of comparison and to identify areas that needed improvement, Grenier removed excess pigments and painted part of the wall, but never painted on the original, stenciled areas. The final result is now mounted on a reinforced grid frame support.
“Looters” will return to public view once more on December 1, when Cummings unveils it at his hotel. He has not yet decided where it may permanently reside, but “Looters” will undoubtedly hang in a protected setting to prevent any additional defacement.