Image via Wikimedia Commons: Ezmosis
It’s been five years, but the much contested whitewashing and demolition of Long Island City’s former graffiti mecca, 5Pointz, is far from forgotten. On Monday, a federal judge ruled that New York City real estate developer, Jerry Wolkoff, must pay $6.7 million in damages to the 21 artists whose work at the five-story warehouse site was painted over virtually overnight. The ruling follows a milestone three-week trial, held in November, which found that Wolkoff violated the Visual Arts Rights Act — which protects works of “recognized stature” — when he tore down the complex, located at 45-46 Davis Street.
In his decision, federal judge Frederic Block ordered Wolkoff to pay $150,000, the maximum damages possible, for each of the 45 works that were obliterated in 2013. According to The Guardian, Block noted that Wolkoff showed no remorse and “acted willfully,” failing to give the artists a 90-day warning before he hired workers to cover the building. Though Wolkoff’s lawyer, David Ebert, argued in November 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 during the trial.
“If not for Wolkoff’s insolence, these damages would not have been assessed,” Block wrote on Monday, noting that Wolkoff should have waited to take action after had obtained all his permits. “If he did not destroy 5Pointz until he received his permits and demolished it 10 months later, the Court would not have found that he had acted willfully.”
In its nearly 20 year existence, the 5Pointz complex became an aesthetic wonder and an unconventional tourist destination. It was a unique collaboration between Wolkoff and a crew of graffiti artists, and was defended by the artists’ lawyers as “the world’s largest open-air aerosol museum.”
The whitewashed 5Pointz Complex
When artists learned of Wolkoff’s plans to replace 5Pointz with luxury condos in 2013, a campaign was ignited to save the site. The site’s curator at the time, artist Jonathan Cohen, better known as Meres Ones, attempted to prevent its demolition by seeking a preliminary injunction under the Visual Artists Rights Act. That application was initially denied, but an opinion was set to come within an eight day period, reports The Washington Post.
“Rather than wait for the Court’s opinion,” Block wrote, “Wolkoff destroyed almost all of the plaintiffs’ paintings by whitewashing them during that eight-day interim.”
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.