Banksy’s ‘Haight Street Rat’ on display in Windsor

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer
Banksy’s “Haight Street Rat” was painted in 2010 on a San Francisco bed-and-breakfast.

Street-art enthusiasts take note — there’s a rare, brief opportunity to see a bonafide painting by the elusive, anonymous British artist Banksy.

Windsor’s Wolfhead Distillery will exhibit “Haight Street Rat,” painted in 2010 on a San Francisco bed-and-breakfast, through Thursday, along with works by local Ontario street artists.

At least, this Banksy is about as bonafide as you can get, given the artist famously refuses to state that a given work is his.

“When Banksy did this in 2010, the only way he’d authenticate was by putting a photo of the piece on his own website. ” said Nashville resident and art-world entrepreneur Brian Greif, who now owns the work.

“And the rat was on his web page,” he added. “It was authenticated.”

Greif is one of the chief characters in the 2017 Netflix documentary “Saving Banksy,” which explores the tricky morality surrounding street art and attempts to preserve it, much less profit by it.

Detroiters may well remember the brouhaha when representatives of 555 Gallery extracted the cement-block mural, “I Remember When All This Was Trees,” from the crumbling Packard plant in 2010. The painting featured a glum little boy with a paint brush and can.

The gallery was attacked for removing the mural in the first place, but criticism died down once they put the piece on display.

All that revved up again, however, when 555 sold “I Remember” in 2015 at auction in Los Angeles for $137,500.

“I don’t see how they can candy-coat selling the Banksy,” local artist Stephen Schudlich told The Detroit News at the time. “It was a bad, bad move from the start.”

For its part, “Haight Street Rat” was one of eight works Banksy allegedly painted during a week’s spree in San Francisco. Greif says the city required landlords to whitewash them as soon as they went up.

“They regarded them as graffiti,” he said.

So Greif rescued the rat, after getting permission from the B&B owner to take out the wood planks it was painted on.

“I removed it,” Greif said, “but I don’t consider myself to be the owner. I’m its custodian. I tried to give it to SF MOMA for free,” he added, referring to the city’s Museum of Modern Art, “hoping they would display it. But they didn’t want it.”

Subsequent reports have quoted museum officials saying the problem boiled down to, once again, the sticky question of authentication. A museum curator told the art website in January that they’d need to get a personal note from Banksy — which of course, the artist doesn’t provide.

So Greif, who until 2013 was general manager at San Francisco’s KRON-TV, decided to offer up “Haight Street Rat” for exhibitions to anyone who wanted it with one proviso:

“I took a vow when I took it down that I would never sell or profit from it,” Greif said. “So I provide it to venues that agree to exhibit it for free.”

Before Windsor, “Rat” was on display at the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library in Illinois.

As part of the offer, Greif also requires venues to bring in art by local street artists to display alongside the Banksy, so you’ll find Windsor artists at Wolfhead, as well.

You can walk into the distillery and see “Haight Street Rat” for free from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday.

Both evenings, however, have ticketed events.

There’s a Banksy dinner party with Greif from 6:30 p.m. to midnight Wednesday at the distillery. A closing party Thursday evening will include a range of nationally known DJs, including Statik Selektah.

Proceeds from the latter will benefit the United Way of Windsor-Essex County.

(313) 222-6021

Twitter: @mhodgesartguy

‘Banksy Art Exhibit at Wolfhead’

10 a.m.-5 p.m.: Open to public free Wednesday and Thursday

6:30 p.m.-midnight Wednesday: A Night with Banksy dinner party, tickets $60 per person 

7 p.m.-midnight Thursday: Closing party with DJs, tickets $110 per person 

7781 Howard, Amherstburg, Ontario

(519) 726-1111