DETROIT — You can’t really talk about expatriate American artist Ryan Mendoza‘s “The White House” project without talking about appropriation. Appropriation has a long and storied history within the context of art, and that makes it easy to intellectualize a process that, at its heart, means taking something from someone else. Maybe that’s okay, when the person or entity you’re taking from is aware of and on board with being part of a conversation. When what you’re doing is taking a blighted house, piece by piece, out of the city of Detroit, and putting it on display in Europe, it’s not okay. The problem with “ruin porn” — a phrase no one is more wearied of hearing than Detroiters — is that this isn’t Machu Picchu, this isn’t Pompeii. This is a living city, and it is home for nearly 700,000 people. You can’t just come and take pieces of it away to display out of context (I mean, obviously you can, but it makes you an asshole). Detroit is not your museum piece. We are still using that.
Oh, really? You Detroiters need every single one of your broken, disused houses? You know what? Yes, we do. There is a thriving and exciting practice of reclaiming these spaces, on an individual level by artists like Tyree Guyton (whose Heidelberg Project has grown from contentious eyesore to contentious international tourist destination over its 30-year development), or by galleries and collectives like Powerhouse Productions and Popps Packing. You have the fellas over at Young World fundamentally redefining what a gallery is, with a three-season space carved out of a former industrial district, proving you don’t actually need electricity or running water to put on world-class exhibitions.