Above the 5Pointz Loading Dock
The question of whether graffiti should be considered art was the central issue in the 3-week trial concerning the 5Pointz complex in Queens, which ended on Tuesday when a jury found that a New York City real estate developer broke the law when he tore down the complex, The New York Times reported. With the demolition of the building, 49 vivid graffiti murals spray-painted on the complex’s walls were gone.
Though the judge must provide his final verdict, the finding by the jury of Brooklyn’s Federal District Court will serve as a recommendation for the presiding Judge Frederic Block.
The complex in Long Island City became an aesthetic wonder and an unconventional tourist destination in its nearly 20 years. It was a unique collaboration between developer Jerry Wolkoff and a crew of graffiti artists, and was defended by the crew’s lawyers as “the world’s largest open-air aerosol museum.” However, the graffiti’s creation was always based on the fact that Wolkoff planned to tear down the complex in favor of luxury apartment buildings, a move he made in 2014 which began the conflict.
The whitewashed 5Pointz Complex
When the graffiti artists caught word of 5Pointz’s demolition, they filed suit against Wolkoff, citing a violation of the Visual Arts Rights Act, a 1990 law concerning an artist’s moral rights, which allows artists of works of “recognized stature” to prohibit the destruction of their art.
The graffiti crew’s lawyer, Eric Baum, stated that Wolkoff failed to give them a 90-day warning before he hired workers one night to whitewash the building.
Though Wolkoff’s lawyer, David Ebert, argued that the 21 artists involved had erased more graffiti themselves by constantly changing their art, with nearly 11,000 murals coming and going over the years, the jury ultimately sided with the artists.
Both Ebert and Baum agreed that Block would only take the jury’s ruling as a recommendation. The judge has requested the two submit court papers within the next few weeks regarding the verdict’s validity. Following this, he will reach a verdict which may force Wolkoff to pay damages to the graffiti artists.
For more on the whitewashing and demolition of 5Pointz, check out 5Pointz Graffiti Haven in Long Island City Whitewashed Overnight by Building Owners and 35 Photos from Inside the Demolition at 5 Pointz Street Art Haven.