5Pointz, the Largest Legal “Graffiti Exhibit” in the US

It all started one afternoon when I was making the trek out to Flushing to meet a friend for some good Chinese food.  As the 7 train emerged above ground from Manhattan to Queens, out of the left side of the train appeared this factory-like building covered all over with colorful graffiti.  I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.  And, being above ground, I didn’t hesitate to immediately google my location: 5Pointz.

5pointz from the elevated 7 train

The 5Pointz Aerosol Art Center, also known as the Institute of Higher Burnin’ and formerly the Phun Phactory, is the largest legal aerosol art exhibit in the US and possibly the world.   It was first established in 1993 as a haven for aerosol artists to hone and showcase their craft.   As you can imagine, graffiti art has always had a controversial relationship with its surroundings, and a surprisingly few number of locations worldwide allow legal tagging, including Rio de Janeiro, Brazil which has a remarkable culture of street art.

5Pointz owes its existence to the building’s owner Jerry Wolkoff, its curator Meres One, and its many contributors. Wolkoff, who’s owned the building since 1971, allows the artists to create works on the building for free. Meres One, aka Jonathan Cohen, has been curating the space since 2001, deciding both who gets to spraypaint the walls and how long the work can stay up before it is replaced by another piece. According to Meres One, there are approximately 350-400 pieces on the building at any given point.   And its contributors, many of whom work under a different alias, come from all over the world to visit and work at the “graffiti mecca”.

5Pointz may look like an abandoned building, but it feels like a living organism. It’s a gateway to a culture that is so underrepresented elsewhere in the world, and it stands as an ever-evolving testament to artistic creation.

On any given day, you can find yourself surrounded by not just graffiti artists, but DJs, beat boxers, b-boys, filmmakers, photographers, and other likeminded pilgrims.

5Pointz’s future is currently unknown, as Wolkoff has plans to replace the building with two apartment complexes in the near future.   So don’t wait to take a field trip out to 5Pointz””it’s just a short ride from the 7 Train to Court House Square and mere steps from the MOMA PS1.   The 5Pointz official website has plenty of information about the building and tours, but it’s not the most up-to-date with events.  For that, check out Time Out, which has a list of summer weekend events to help you plan your trip.  Or you can always follow 5Pointz on twitter.

Interested in learning more?   Check out this documentary on Vimeo.

How to get there:

Address: 45-46 Davis Street, Long Island City, NY 11101
Subways: E, V   to 23 St/Ely Ave., 7 to 45 Road/Court House Square, G to Court House Square
Cost: free

Get in touch with the author @plainjanehu.

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