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Public art

The path to Banksy

This Banksy piece was reassembled and installed in the PATH network at 1 York St.

Graffiti done by the British street artist was saved by a Toronto developer who reinstalled it in a pedestrian pathway

Distinctive graffiti by the famed British street artist Banksy appeared suddenly on the façade of a vacant office building near Toronto's waterfront several years ago.

Graffiti from famed British graffiti artist Banksy is displayed on a wall in Toronto on Tuesday, May 11, 2010.

Art conservator Alexander Gabov of CSMO, restores the Banksy piece, removing graffiti that was painted on after the original Banksy was created. Paul Casselman

The stencil painting of a policeman or security guard clutching the leash of a muzzled pink balloon dog was one of seven pieces the elusive artist created on downtown walls during a visit in May, 2010. Seen by some as vandalism, several were immediately painted over while others were rendered unrecognizable by local graffiti artists.

But the uniformed man and his balloon dog – which was also tagged – met a different fate. When a real estate developer bought the building from the provincial government a year later, officials ordered demolition crews to carefully salvage and store the limestone slabs.

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"It's an important piece. I think we all recognized that pretty early on," said Jared Menkes, vice-president of high-rise residential at Menkes Developments, which co-owns the site.

The artwork, which has been restored to its original state, was recently installed in a second-floor PATH pedestrian walkway in a new 35-storey condo, office and retail building on the same plot of land, at 1 York St., just south of the Gardiner Expressway.

AAssistant conservator of CSMO Emily Ricketts, restoration specialist, applies finishing touches to the Banksy installation in the PATH system at One York Street. Paul Casselman

Banksy, who has never confirmed his identity, is known for his politically charged critiques of capitalism, authority, poverty and the art establishment. Indeed, the officer and dog piece was created on the former headquarters of the Ontario Provincial Police just a month before Toronto hosted the G20 Summit.

Asked whether he thought Banksy would approve of a real estate developer showcasing his work, Mr. Menkes noted his firm's commitment to keeping the piece in the public realm. "I think at least he has to appreciate that and you know what? I think the city will appreciate it because it's not in a private collection and we're giving it back to the city."

An e-mail sent to an address on Banksy's website seeking comment was not returned. The piece was created during the artist's trip to Toronto for the release of his film, Exit Through the Gift Shop, a documentary about street art. Only one other of his works still exists, preserved behind plexiglass in an alley near Church Street and The Esplanade.

Mr. Menkes said his company's piece, a photo of which later appeared on Banksy's website and in one of his books, was independently appraised at $850,000 (U.S.) a few years ago. Mr. Menkes, who said he is a big follower of Banksy, declined to comment on its message but said: "Every time I see it, I get a little smile on my face. I think it's a cute image. It evokes happiness."

Forklift operator George Dickson, Matt Meagher of Museum Pros, and structural engineer Ira Idzkowski of Torcon Canada, work to reassemble the Banksy piece following its removal from the building at 90 Harbour Street, prior to its demolition.

The artwork, which is more than 3 metres high and 1.5 metres wide and weighs 4,300 kilograms, is now encased in a freestanding glass panelled box in the pedestrian pathway. The installation includes a companion interpretive piece by designer Johnson Chou, who used angled panels of polished stainless steel to reflect the Banksy piece. The developer said the project cost about $250,000.

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"The image is intentionally distorted. The effect is that one is viewing a kind of … apparition of the Banksy, underscoring the notion of the ephemerality of street art," Mr. Chou said. "It's something that's been resurrected and preserved and I didn't want people to simply just say, 'Here's this object and that's it.' But I wanted to suggest that there was more to this piece than just what you see."

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