Brooklyn Jury Finds NYC Developer's Destruction Of Historic Street Art Mecca 5Pointz Illegal
The developer was accused of violating the Visual Artists Rights Act.
November 08, 2017 at 8:22 pm
The debate on whether graffiti should be deemed "art" or "vandalism" is quite the hot topic.
However, thanks to one Brooklyn jury, graffiti artists may have just gotten the upper hand.
According to the New York Times, a jury has found real estate developer Jerry Wolkoff guilty for unlawfully tearing down the 5Pointz complex in 2014.
5Pointz was a collection of over 50 murals and countless tags spray painted onto an abandoned building complex Wolkoff owned in Long Island City, Queens. The buildings had become walls of fame for many street artists, and was popular with both tourists and locals.
Wolkoff claimed that the artists who painted in the building knew that it was his to do as he pleased with, and also that he planned to tear the complex down at some point.
However, the city was shocked when, overnight, without any advance notice, Wolkoff sent in crews that painted all of 5Pointz's walls white.
A group of 21 graffiti artists behind murals sued Wolkoff, alleging that his actions violated the Visual Artists Rights Act (V.A.R.A.). The act protects art created on someone else's property that is of “recognized stature."
Having existed for about 20 years, the murals had become ingrained in the community and culture in Long Island City and were referred to as the “world’s largest open-air aerosol museum,” Eric Baum, the lawyer that represented the artists argued.
Baum accused Wolkoff of failing to give the proper 90-day notice V.A.R.A. requires to the artists before he sent in workers to cover up the work with white paint.
Wolkoff's lawyer, David Ebert, argued that V.A.R.A. wasn't applicable in his client's case because it was intended to protect art and not the building. Ebert also claimed that the artists had destroyed more graffiti than Wolkoff had, given that they habitually painted over old murals with new ones.
Ultimately, the jury was on the artists' side.
“The jury sided strongly with the rights of the artists,” said Baum. “This is a clear message from the people that the whitewashing of the buildings by its owner was a clear and willful act.”
Judge Frederic Block presided over the case and — at the recommendation of both legal teams — will take the jury's verdict as a recommendation, make his own, final decision after reviewing verdict court papers from either side.
If Judge Block mirrors the jury's guilty verdict, Wolkoff will have to pay damage fees to the artists.