5 Pointz area and its interesting developments.

Posted on March 01, 2018

5 Pointz: a worldwide known American mural space at 45–46 Davis Street in Long Island City, New York. Developer Jerry Wolkoff, who has bought the area in the 1970’s, has made a controversial decision back in 2013: he chose to demolish 5 Pointz and replace it with a new complex. This action has led to a long-lasting lawsuit, which found justice in february 2018: Judge Frederic Block ordered Wolkoff to pay either a collective $6.7 million to the 21 graffiti artists whose work he whitewashed in 2013, or $150,000 for each of the 45 murals he destroyed. The decision,had been a long time coming, making its victory for the creators and their community that much sweeter.

This development is an interesting one, because it financially protects the urban artists and their works. Before Wolkoffs decision, the 5 Pointz area consisted of twelve factory buildings that were one, three, or five stories high. The structures had a combined 250,000 to 300,000 square feet of floor space. According to 5 Pointz' official website, it was considered to be "the world's premier graffiti mecca", where aerosol artists from around the globe painted colorful pieces on the walls of a 200,000-square-foot factory building. 5 Pointz had housed the Crane Street Studios, in which 200 artists paid below-market rents for studio space. The name "5 Pointz” itself, signifies the five boroughs coming together as one, but because of its reputation as an epicenter of the graffiti scene, the industrial complex has united aerosol artists from across the world as well.

Wolkoff was approached in the 1990s for permission for the factory to be used for legal graffiti work, which he granted. The site was first established as the Phun Phactory in 1993 by Pat DiLillo under a program called Graffiti Terminators. In 2002, Jonathan Cohen, a graffiti artist going under the moniker of Meres One, began curating work. Cohen is the one who renamed the building to "5 Pointz", making the building a focal point to the art scene of the five boroughs.

The graffiti-covered warehouse has also been used in music videos as well. Such videos are usually by several hip-hop and R&B stars, including Kurtis Blow, Mobb Deep, Rahzel, Boot Camp Click and Joss Stone.

Despite 5 Pointz grew out to be a beloved spot for both artists and urban art lovers, rumours were spread in 2013  that Wolkoff and his father were planning to raze the celebrated building to make way for a $400 million luxury rental condo development. As soon as the artists found out about this story, a group of 17 artists filed a lawsuit to protect their work and the area. The Wolkoffs feared that preservation efforts might come through, and thus, without warning, whitewashed the walls in the middle of the night in late 2013. They claimed the reason for their brash move was a way to save the artists from the distress of watching their work torn down slowly over a few months— better to rip the band-aid right off, they said.

In their pending suit, the graffiti artists argue that the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA)—which grants visual artists limited rights over work they created but do not own—entitles them to monetary damages for the destruction of their art.
The developers, meanwhile, asserted that such rights are narrow and inapplicable given that, while the artists are well-known, the works are not. As such, they aren’t covered by VARA. But in his ruling judge Frederic Block sided with the artists, stating that the evidence provided by both sides was sufficient to merit putting their VARA claims in front of a jury.

This is an interesting development for urban art, urban artists and the art world in general. To be continued ….