5Pointz in Queens, New York at its heyday in 2011 (via Pelle Sten/Flickr)

The real estate company that whitewashed graffiti works at 5Points in Queens, New York, will still have to pay millions in damages to the affected artists, the United States Supreme Court decided on Monday, October 5. The decision marks the end of a 7-year legal battle between developer Jerry Wolkoff’s G&M Realty and the street artists.

The Supreme Court declined G&M Realty’s petition to review the case, upholding a 2018 federal court ruling that awarded $6.7 million in damages to 21 artists at the site.

In November of 2013, Wolkoff whitewashed 45 graffiti artworks at 5Pointz in the middle of the night without notifying the artists. Wolkoff, who died in July of this year, fought to overturn the ruling against him until the last days of his life after losing an appeal in court in February.

The 2018 ruling set a precedent for the protection of graffiti as an art form that falls under the “recognized stature” provision of the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA). The court ordered Wolkoff to pay $150,000 for each destroyed work, the maximum award of statutory damages allowed under VARA.

The transformation of 5Pointz into condos (GIF by Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic, images from 1, 2, 3)

But 5Pointz, together with the blanket of graffiti that adorned it, has been a thing of the past since 2014; Wolkoff has since replaced the former warehouse with two high rises that are now in final stages of construction. The two residential towers — one 41 and the other 47 stories — will offer 1,115 residential units. Of these, 223 (20%) are expected to be designated for affordable housing.

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital Arts Writers Grant and he holds an MFA in Art Writing from the School of Visual...