5Pointz Is Gone But Its Artists Have Reunited to Turn a New York Stairwell Into a ‘Museum of Street Art’

The citizenM hotel has turned over wall space to the street artists whose work was whitewashed from the 5Pointz graffiti mecca.

Museum of Street Art curator Marie Cecile Flageul with work on view at the new citizenM hotel in New York. Photo by Rae Maxwell, courtesy of citizenM.

The storied New York street art mecca known as 5Pointz came tumbling down in 2014, a few months after its owner whitewashed 200,000 square feet of graffiti from its walls in the dead of the night. Although they won’t get back the 12 years of art lost at the Long Island City warehouse, the street artists have reunited to launch the 21-story Museum of Street Art in a stairwell at the new citizenM hotel in Manhattan.

Marie Cecile Flageul, a longtime spokeswoman and advocate for the 5Pointz artists, has selected 20 artists who painted at the original complex to create new work for the hotel. “The process of painting was like a reunion—music blasting in the hallways, jokes around every corner. The crew was back and it felt amazing,” Flageul told artnet News in an email.

The artists range in age from 25 to 65 and hail from seven countries, but all the works pay homage to the Lower East Side. Flaguel assigned each a topic and a floor in the stairwell, which she’s christened “A Vertical Love Letter to the Bowery.” There are portraits of famous past and present Lower East Side residents, such as RuPaul, Lou Reed, Rosario Dawson, and Allen Ginsberg, as well as scenes inspired by life in the neighborhood—sunset views from fire escapes, pick-up basketball, mosaics from an abandoned subway platform.

Visitors to the museum, which is free, check in at the front desk and then take the elevator to the 20th floor. There, they are greeted by a piece by 5Pointz founder and curator Jonathan Cohen, known as Meres One. Downstairs, he’s also painted a mural in the building’s public plaza, a stained-glass-inspired work featuring Wildstyle lettering. Cohen moved to Crown Heights, Brooklyn, after 5Pointz came down, he told the New York Times, and “did a lot of walking around—soul searching, admired the townhouses, the churches, the stained glass.”

Elle's portrait of Ru Paul at the Museum of Street Art at the new citizenM hotel on the Bowery. Photo by Rae Maxwell, courtesy of citizenM.

Elle’s portrait of RuPaul at the Museum of Street Art at the new citizenM hotel on the Bowery. Photo by Rae Maxwell, courtesy of citizenM.

At the Museum of Street Art, Cohen is joined by artists including Nicholai Khan, See TF, Elle, Danielle Mastrion, Damien Mitchell, Trans1, Too Fly, and Souls NYC, each of whom takes over a floor in the stairwell. Thomas Mestre, who goes by Djalouz, has the first work visitors will see in the stairwell, which includes a quote from street art legend Keith Haring: “Art lives through the eyes of the person looking at it.”

Collectively, they spent a total of 420 hours on the project, using 500 cans of spray paint.” For Cohen, the work had a healing effect. “After the loss of 5 Pointz I was very lost, and was struggling to even create,” he told artnet News in an email, noting how he proud he was of what the artists had accomplished. “I hope it educates and showcases all that can be done with aerosol paint.”

The old 5Pointz before its demolition. Photo by Rachel Fawn.

The old 5Pointz before its demolition. Photo by Rachel Fawn, courtesy of citizenM.

After the destruction of 5Pointz, a beacon of vibrant color visible from the tracks on the passing 7 train, graffiti artists vowed to fight back against owner Jerry Wolkoff. He had allowed them to paint there for 12 years, turning the exterior of the five-story building into a ever-changing art gallery. In a landmark decision, a judge ruled in favor of 21 5Pointz artists, awarding them $6.7 million in compensation for having their rights violated under the Visual Artists Rights Act. Wolkoff is currently appealing the ruling.

Robin Chadha, citizenM’s chief marketing officer, followed the case closely from Amsterdam, where the hotel chain is based. The company has worked with artists in the past and was intrigued by the possibility of bringing the 5Pointz artists together again.

Christelle de Castro, "Citizens of the Bowery" installed at the new citizenM hotel on the Bowery in New York. Photo by Chris Cooper, courtesy of citizenM.

Christelle de Castro’s Citizens of the Bowery, installed at the new citizenM hotel in New York. Photo by Chris Cooper, courtesy of citizenM.

The hotel, which opened last week, has also teamed up with New Inc., an arts incubator at the New Museum, to commission art for its rooms. In June, while the building was still under construction, activist and photographer Christelle de Castro illuminated each of its 180 windows and turned them into frames filled with portraits of neighborhood residents and cultural figures, including New Inc.’s deputy director Karen Wong and longtime Village Voice columnist Michael Musto.

Work by 5Pointz artists has also appeared on other sites since the building was demolished. In 2015, they staged a takeover of the hallways of August Martin High School in Queens and, two years later, they made an installation for the North Carolina musical festival Hopfest.

“5Pointz can never be replaced. Nevertheless, to be gifted over 5,000 square feet of space to showcase a sample of what it was is a priceless gift,” said Flageul, who will give guided tours to the first 500 guests. “It is, I hope, a very broad and rich collection of techniques and styles.”

See a video about the making of the Museum of Street Art below. 

The Museum of Street Art will open in October in the citizenM hotel, daily from 10am–4pm.

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