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Graffiti Artists Sue 5Pointz Developer for Whitewashing Their Murals

5Pointz the morning after it was whitewashed on November 19, 2013 (photo by Tiernan Morgan for Hyperallergic)
5Pointz the morning after it was whitewashed on November 19, 2013 (photo by Tiernan Morgan for Hyperallergic)

Nine artists are suing Jerry Wolkoff, the owner of the 5Pointz site in Long Island City, Queens, for destroying their murals when his company G&M Realty had the building whitewashed in November 2013.

In a complaint filed earlier this month in federal court in Brooklyn and obtained by Hyperallergic, the artists — Maria Castillo (TOOFLY), James Cochran (Jimmy C), Luis Gomez (Ishmael), Bienbenido Guerra (FCEE), Richard Miller (Patch Whiskey), Kai Niederhausen (Semor), Carlo Nieva, Rodney Rodriguez (PANIC), and Kenji Takabayashi — claim that “without giving [the artists] a fair opportunity to remove and preserve their work, or even the minimum notice required by law, [Wolkoff and his company G&M Realty] suddenly decided to destroy it under cover of night, even though at the time of the destruction they were far from ready to demolish the buildings in question. The destruction was gratuitous, willful, and wanton, and undertaken without regard to the feelings, reputations, or financial interests of the plaintiffs, who now seek compensation for their devastating losses.” The artists claim their works were protected under the Visual Artists Rights Act and are seeking unspecified damages and payment of their legal fees. They are being represented by Eric Baum of Eisenberg & Baum.

“The artists were very upset and disturbed by the whitewashing of their work,” Baum told Hyperallergic. “They would have preferred for the building to have been preserved, for their artwork to have been preserved, for them to have received notice before the artwork was destroyed …. This is a case about damages, but it’s also something that the artists feel strongly about, they want to send a message that this type of art needs to be protected.”

The rear entrance of 5Pointz in 2010 (photo by Eco84, via Wikimedia Commons)
The rear entrance of 5Pointz in 2010 (photo by Eco84, via Wikimedia Commons)

As the lawsuit explains, the whitewashing of the 5Pointz building was entirely unnecessary, as the structure’s demolition had already been approved — it took place in August 2014. Furthermore, it was done 11 days before Jonathan “Meres One” Cohen — the volunteer curator of the building’s graffiti — was due to hand over the keys to the building, which Wolkoff had given him a decade earlier.

“By whitewashing the artwork, [Wolkoff and G&M Realty] denied [the artists] the opportunity to record, preserve, and/or remove their work, which could have been readily accomplished prior to or during the demolition of the building or with legal notice,” the complaint states. “[Wolkoff and G&M Realty] could have permitted [the artists] an opportunity to mitigate their damages, but they chose not to do so. Instead, they chose to act in a manner that can only be seen as having been intended to cause intense shock and emotional trauma by inflicting an egregious public insult and destruction of protected artwork.”

Construction of the luxury apartment towers that will replace 5Pointz is underway, though Wolkoff’s attempt last year to trademark the former graffiti center’s name in order to market the new buildings failed. To recap the highlights and eventual destruction of 5Pointz, check out Hyperallergic’s previous posts on the fight to save the once colorful cultural hub.

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