Banksy’s Migrant Child (2019) mural in Venice will be restored, it has been announced, amid arguments that it should be left to gradually deteriorate.
Vittorio Sgarbi, an undersecretary in Italy's culture ministry, released a statement saying that the restoration will be funded by an “important bank”. He was due to divulge further details in a press conference on Wednesday but it was cancelled without explanation just hours before it was due to begin. Sgarbi’s office told The Art Newspaper that the restoration was still going ahead.
The mural is displayed on the wall of a historic building lining the Rio Novo canal near Campo San Pantalon in Venice’s Dorsoduro district. It shows a child holding a flare in her hand and wearing a life vest slightly above the waterline.
Created overnight between 8 and 9 May 2019, the mural is one of just two by Banksy in Italian cities. The other, a 2010 work on the side of a building in Naples, shows a Renaissance-style Madonna with her arms outstretched and a pistol suspended above her head.
Migrant Child, a big tourist attraction, has badly deteriorated due to excessive damp over the past four years. Sgarbi said in a statement that Luigi Brugnaro, Venice’s mayor, first drew his attention to the fact that the work was fading.
However, the question of whether or not to restore it has divided opinion. “I would be inclined to say the work should be detached from the wall, protected and exhibited in safe conditions,” Marco Goldin, an art critic for a number of Italian dailies, told newspaper Corriere del Veneto.
“Street art is transient,” Italian street artist Alex Ermini said. “Seeing time ruining the surface and creating a patina makes it more poetic.”
Sgarbi noted that because the work is less than 70 years old the local sovrintendenza, the state body that oversees heritage protection, does not have the final say on its fate.
“I take the responsibility for this restoration given that contemporary art is part of my remit, and it is my job to protect it,” Sgarbi said in the statement.
“We’re not interested in... whether the artist is alive or even if he gives us his permission to conduct the restoration, given that, among other things, the mural was created illegally,” he added.
The owner of the listed building on which the work is displayed has been notified of the imminent restoration.
“We hope that the work can remain in place while it is being restored [so] it can be enjoyed in the place chosen by the artist,” Jacopo Molina, the owner’s lawyer, told Corriere del Veneto. “It is good that the ministry has taken this stance.”
UPDATE 25 October: The mural will be restored by Banca Ifis, a Venice bank founded by members of the powerful Agnelli family in the 1980s, it was announced during a press conference that was held on 18 October after initially being postponed earlier this month. Banca Ifis was the main partner of the Italian Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale last year. In September, the bank inaugurated the International Park of Sculpture—which includes 12 works by contemporary sculptors including Fernando Botero—in the grounds of the Villa Fürstenberg in Mestre.
"Just as Banksy has created a new language that goes straight to the hearts and minds of young people and all of us...we have a responsibility in the collaboration between public and private institutions to preserve art and culture in Venice," said Ernesto Fürstenberg Fassio, the president of Banca Ifis.