The open-air graffiti gallery known as 5 Pointz today started life as five-story factory in Long Island City, Queens. In the early ’90s, the building was designated as a space where aspiring taggers and muralists could practice their craft without persecution. They had the landlord’s permission.
Over the last two decades, as a steady stream of aerosol artists have stopped by to leave their marks at 5 Pointz, it has transformed into something bigger–it’s become one of the most prominent monuments to street art anywhere in the world.
Now the owners, David Wolkoff and his father Jerry, are ready to take the space back. They would like to demolish the building, and replace it with two high-rise condominiums.
Seventeen of the artists whose work now adorns the walls–including the artists Lady Pink, Bishop 203, AK47, Danielle Mastrion, Shiro, Christian Cortes, Dustin Spagnola, Alice Mizrachi, and the site’s curator, Jonathan Cohen (AKA Meres One)–are fighting the proposal.
On Thursday, a judge granted 17 artists with works painted at 5 Pointz a 10-day restraining order preventing the building’s owner from demolishing the graffiti monument while they put together a case seeking protection for their work under the Visual Artists Rights Act.
VARA says artists have the right to “prevent any destruction of a work of recognized stature, and any intentional or grossly negligent destruction of that work is a violation of that right.”
Proving the case would take convincing a judge that destroying 5 Pointz artists’ work could damage their reputations.
The group’s lawyers are arguing that artists come from “as far away as Kazakhstan, Australia, Japan and Brazil” just for the chance to display their work at 5 Pointz. They come in large part, “because of its stature in the international art community.” They add, “having a work of visual art accepted and displayed on 5 Pointz adds considerable prestige to an artist’s reputation.”
The argument has worked in the past. In 2006, property owners painted over Los Angeles artist Kent Twitchell iconic 6-story mural “Ed Ruscha Monument.” At the time, an art conservationist mourned the loss, calling it “probably his most known mural. Career-wise, it’s like a kick in the gut.”
Twichell went on to win a $1.1 million settlement under the law.
See a selection of 5 Pointz works cited in the artists’ lawsuit
Beauty and the Beast, Esteban Del Valle
Blue Jay Wall, Luis Lamboy
Cube Girl, Alice Mizrachi
Dream of Oil, Francisco Fernandez
Drunken Bulbs, Jonathan Cohen
Fighting Tree, AK47
Geisha, Carlos Game
Love Girl and Burner, Jonathan Cohen
Underwater Fantasy, Shiro
Read the full complaint