5 Pointz, the largest legal aerosol art exhibit in the US is a cultural gem slated to be destroyed – but the artists won’t go down without a fight. Last week, the City Council approved the plans for two enormous residential towers, for which the iconic 5 Pointz building will be demolished. The approval was heartbreaking yet unsurprising news to artists and fans alike. But the next morning, 5 Pointz filed a lawsuit to prevent developers from tearing down the building.
Led by curator Jonathan Meres Cohen, the graffiti art collective seeks a temporary restraining order against the buildings’ owners, Jerry and David Wolkoff of G&M Realty. The lawsuit is filed under the 1990 Visual Artists Rights Act, or VARA, which grants artists certain moral rights over their work, regardless of who owns it. This includes the right, under some circumstances, to prevent destruction of a work that is incorporated into a building. 5 Pointz, which the Wolkoffs allowed the artists to paint legally for many years, contains what is presumably one of the world’s largest collections of aerosol art, which will be destroyed when the building is demolished. According to a press release from 5Pointz, their lawsuit is “the first in the nation in which graffiti artists have sought legal protection for their artwork.”
The first hearing is today, Thursday 10/17 at 3pm in Brooklyn Federal Court (225 Cadman Plaza East, Judge Fredric Block)
As discussed in our last photo essay, the loss of 5 Pointz will have great impact on artists and the New York arts and culture scene. Community arts organizations such as 5 Pointz are extremely important. They are artist-founded and driven, provide education and programming to youth and families, and support the arts with tiny budgets. These creative people, their works, and their energy are what make New York vibrant. If artists are priced out and grassroots cultural spaces are replaced by luxury high rises, what we will have is a city full of expensive, mostly mundane, real estate with little existing developer incentive to create cultural impact or value.
Sadly, this is becoming a familiar story when artists make an area desirable, and are then pushed out by real estate developers. As David Byrne writes in his recent op-ed:
What then, is the future of New York, or really of any number of big urban centers, in this new Gilded Age? Does culture have a role to play? If we look at the city as it is now… most of Manhattan and many parts of Brooklyn are virtual walled communities, pleasure domes for the rich (which, full disclosure, includes me), and aside from those of us who managed years ago to find our niche and some means of income, there is no room for fresh creative types. Middle-class people can barely afford to live here anymore, so forget about emerging artists, musicians, actors, dancers, writers, journalists and small business people. Bit by bit, the resources that keep the city vibrant are being eliminated.
The artists of 5 Pointz may legally occupy and work on the building until December, a date which certainly may be extended while in court. In the meantime, it is business as usual at 5 Pointz, and artists from around the globe continue to collaborate, teach and learn, and create some of the most exciting and impressive public art works in the city. Check out the next Sidetour to 5Pointz, follow them on their Twitter and official website and check out this excellent conversation about the validity of street art and graffiti between Meres and other graffiti legends.
Read our past coverage on Untapped, and stay tuned for more, as this exciting story unfolds.
Here are some photos from September and October:
See more photography from Rachel Fawn Alban.