Is Artist’s Detroit House Project Urban Activism or Ruin Porn?

Despite the accusations, he's got lofty hopes.

Ryan Mendoza with The White Houseat Art Rotterdam.Photo: Geert Broertjes, courtesy Art Rotterdam.
Ryan Mendoza with The White Houseat Art Rotterdam.
Photo: Geert Broertjes, courtesy Art Rotterdam.

An art project by expatriate American artist Ryan Mendoza, who brought the façade of an abandoned Detroit home to Europe as an installation, has raised hackles and generated debate about ruin porn. It’s also left behind what some locals call an eyesore, reports the Detroit Free Press.

When the 45-year-old Mendoza, a Pennsylvania native who has for years lived in Germany and Italy, was looking for an abandoned house to airlift to Europe for an installation at the Art Rotterdam fair, he was simply looking for a symbol of home and family. But finding that building in Detroit made his project much more controversial than he initially planned.

When city officials declined to collaborate with him on the project, feeling it wouldn’t burnish the city’s image, a friend of the artist bought the house and gave it to him. The fact that it came from Detroit, Mendoza told the Detroit Free Press, only deepened the meaning of his undertaking. He now hopes to bring more facades of disused Detroit homes to Europe, where he’ll auction them off, then sending the money to locals to help them buy or rehabilitate homes in the Motor City.

Ryan Mendoza, <i>The White House</i>, at Art Rotterdam.<br>Photo: Geert Broertjes, courtesy Art Rotterdam.

Ryan Mendoza, The White House, at Art Rotterdam.
Photo: Geert Broertjes, courtesy Art Rotterdam.

But some Detroiters are less than pleased. “A Berlin-based artist has taken ruin porn to a whole new level,” wrote Colleen Kowalewski on the website of the Detroit Metro Times. Brian Farkas, special projects manager for the Detroit Building Authority, told WDIV Detroit, “You can’t do this in Detroit anymore. This is not everyone’s canvas. These are neighborhoods, people live here.”

Mendoza poured about $50,000 of his own money into the project, funded by selling his own paintings, and his fans kicked in $16,000 via a crowdfunding initiative. It will take up permanent residence at the Verbeke Foundation, in Antwerp, Belgium.

However, local resident Vincent Thomas, who had grown up in the house but lost it to the city over unpaid taxes, is supportive of Mendoza’s effort. “I’m glad that somebody is doing something with it,” he told the Detroit Free Press. “But I hope something positive comes out of it for the city. That still needs to happen.”


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