Banksy’s latest visit to New York City hasn’t resulted in the same flood of works as his 2013 “residency,” but already two pieces have been defaced or disappeared, and another seems destined to be painted over. The fourth, a stencil of a seal painted on a former gas station in Midwood, Brooklyn, may face an even more dramatic fate: the wrecking ball.
The building featuring the seal stencil at 1249 Coney Island Avenue, a former Mobil gas and service station, is slated for demolition to make way for a four-story, 50,000-square-foot self-storage complex being built by Safe N Lock (SNL). Though it’s unclear whether SNL has any plans to preserve Banksy’s seal mural — Hyperallergic has contacted the company but has not received a response — one man has enlisted contractors and engineers in an attempt to help save the work.
“When I found out the building was going to be knocked down, that’s when I thought about removing the wall,” Brooklyn native and restaurant owner Evan Franca told Hyperallergic. “I’ve built restaurants and overseen construction in short periods of time so was up to the challenge of this project. I contacted dozens of contractors and several structural engineers and feel I have found a good team for the job, but the cost is well beyond what I thought it would originally be.”
Whether SNL plans to work with Franca to remove the mural, have it removed and preserved on the company’s own terms, or simply demolish it with the rest of the building, remains to be seen. However, the company has taken steps to prevent further vandalism or deterioration to the mural. It is now covered with a plywood case and protected by a security guard.
“I’ve been a Banksy fan for a while and after I heard he did the two works in Midwood, which is where I grew up, I was very excited to see them,” Franca added. “His larger piece on the stucco wall resonated with me and was such a powerful statement on gentrification, real estate values, and its effects on communities and as a Brooklyn native hit home literally. It was sadly destroyed within a few days and I don’t want to see that happen with his other piece.”
Indeed, the larger mural at the gas station site — actually painted on the wall of an adjacent building — has been thoroughly vandalized and painted over.
Extracting Banksy murals is notoriously tricky business, beyond the engineering challenges of removing an entire chunk of wall from a building. The secretive British street artist has denounced past attempts to sell or exhibit for profit his unsanctioned street pieces. However, he has also been known to support more altruistic initiatives to raise money for charity by selling such works or touring them in free exhibitions. Underlying such logistical and ethical questions are more fundamental issues like the inherent impermanence of graffiti and street art, and whether it’s right to try to preserve such works at all.
“I know some people will say ‘let it be destroyed, it’s not meant to be permanent,’ but can’t we make the same argument for our communities? Every day we seem to knock down older structures with architectural and artistic integrity to make way for glass and steel towers,” Franca said. “This is exactly what Banksy’s larger piece next door was about, and that land grab piece feels like a foreshadowing for what’s happening to his other work. It’s being driven out by a real estate developer. I can’t help but appreciate the irony there. ”
Franca estimates the cost of removing, reinforcing, and transporting the Banksy at roughly $250,000. Finding a venue to publicly display it would be an additional challenge. While he remains hopeful and continues to look for partners to help him preserve the mural, a demolition application for the gas station building was approved by the city’s Department of Buildings in December of last year, and plans for SNL’s building at the site were approved in February. For now, the future remains murky for Banksy’s seal.
As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever.
Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.