Mymodernmet_ Nature can be an artist, filling our world with sweeping colors and shapes. Not only that, but it seems like it can also be a creative patron of the arts as well. The “Whale Tower” mural, which decorates Detroit's Broderick Tower, has been covered by an ad for almost two years. However, during a recent thunderstorm, the advertisement on top of the mural became severely damaged, making way for the ocean-themed painting beneath it to shine once again.
This large-scale piece was created by Michigan-born artist Robert Wyland in 1997. Painted on the rear façade of Broderick Tower in Downtown Detroit, the mural covers 20 floors of the 34-story building, depicting a group of whales swimming in the ocean. On top of its prime location within the city, its vicinity to Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers baseball team, allowed fans to gaze at the painting from the stadium stands.
However, its coveted spot also came with significant marketing desirability, and so the mural has been covered by ads on and off since 2006. The most recent takeover began in November 2021, when a Rocket Companies advertisement featuring illustrations by artist Phillip Simpson was placed over it. While the image included the message “Detroit is Home,” as well as the work of a local creator, the community didn't feel comfortable with seeing their familiar “Whale Tower” hidden away.
Then, in late August, a bout of bad weather hit the Detroit area. During the storm, the Rocket Companies ad was ripped in half. As the pieces flapped in the breeze, locals were able to catch the first peek at the whales in a long time. A few days later, the remnants of the vinyl ad were removed—and so Wyland's piece recovered its spot in the Detroit skyline.
“It’s ironic,” Steve Creech, president of the Wyland Foundation, told the Detroit Free Press. “After years of contention, soda ads, car ads, appeals to the state supreme court, and Rocket Mortgage completely disregarding any communication with us to find another building for their ad instead of covering up a legacy work of public art, it finally took Mother Nature to step in and say, ‘Let me handle this.’”
It's still unclear whether the ad will be replaced, but Creech calls for the leasers to use this as a moment of reflection. “We really hope this incident gives the advertisers pause. If you look at water pollution, declining biodiversity, and the worsening climate change, humanity hasn't exactly been doing the planet any favors lately,” he said. “So, there's something rather poignant about the timing for the return of the mural. Maybe the advertisers will finally consider letting the mural serve the purpose Wyland intended: to remind people that no matter where we live, we are always intrinsically connected to nature.”
While Simpson's art also deserves the spotlight—especially as a Black artist whose work is dedicated to spreading love and joy—there should be room for both creators to be admired without the work of one covering the other, and without corporate messaging shadowing a powerful message about taking care of the natural world.