5Pointz Developer Illegally Whitewashed Graffiti in Long Island City, Jury Finds

Photo by Erin via Flickr

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    5Pointz developer Jerry Wolkoff acted illegally when he painted over almost 50 pieces of graffiti at the famed Long Island City site in Queens in 2013, a Brooklyn jury found Tuesday after about three weeks of deliberations.

    The artists who had covered 5Pointz in colorful graffiti scored a major victory in March when a Brooklyn judge ruled that they could sue the developers for painting over their work without providing them advance notice.

    Artists had been using the building at 45-46 Davis Street in Long Island City as a canvas since 1993 and in 2002 artist Meres One helped turn the space into a graffiti mecca. In 2013, developer G&M Realty announced that the space would become two high-rise apartment buildings.

    5pointz queens timothy krause

    Photo by Timothy Krause via Flickr

    In 2015, 21 artists filed a lawsuit against the Wolkoff family, which owns G&M Realty, claiming that the property’s owner committed an illegal act by painting over their work without giving them enough warning to take it down and save it. They evoked the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, which states that protections against destruction of works are afforded to authors who create art of “recognized stature.”

    All the artists were awarded damages on November 7 and the final costs will be calculated today, November 8, according to the Daily News.

    But Judge Frederic Block will take the jury’s decision as a recommendation and make a final decision in the coming weeks, according to The New York Times. He has asked Eric Baum, the lawyer for the artists, and Wolkoff’s lawyer, David Ebert, to submit court papers outlining how valid the decision was.

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    Photo by Tom’s Playground via Flickr

    Artists and the surrounding community were outraged when Wolkoff announced that he would tear down the structure. Rallies were held to try to preserve the structure but the building was torn down and the new towers will be completed at the end of this year.

    “At times I stood alone,” artist Meres One wrote on Instagram. “By the end 20 artists and an entire passionate community reminded me every day that this was a fight worth fighting for!!”

    The developer encouraged the artists to tag the property before he developed it. The legal ruling may be the first to find graffiti is art and therefore afforded legal protection.

    Ebert told QNS it would be “inappropriate to comment” since the case is still pending before the court.

    Baum could not be reached as of press time.

    Editor’s note: A version of this story originally ran on QNS. You can see it here.

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