It ‘Makes No Sense’: 5Pointz Developer Vows to Appeal Landmark Ruling That Favored Graffiti Artists

The developer says the order to pay $6.75 million is "ridiculous."

Murals at 5Pointz. Photo: Pelle Sten, via Flickr.

The real estate developer behind 5Pointz, a warehouse complex and graffiti mecca in Queens, has vowed to appeal a judge’s decision earlier this month ordering him to pay $6.75 million to the 21 street artists whose work was destroyed when he whitewashed and demolished the site.

The ruling, a landmark victory for artist protections under the Visual Artists Rights Act, “makes no sense,” Gerald Wolkoff, the property’s owner, told the Queens Gazette. He is confident the appeals court will acknowledge “how ridiculous this whole thing is.”

The artists’ lawyer, Eric Baum of Eisenberg & Baum, told artnet News that there is no basis for an appeal. “Although the defendants are appealing, the court gave a well-reasoned and thorough decision in this case. It meticulously applied the facts to the law and was fair to both parties,” he said in an email.

Wolkoff’s attorney did not respond to requests for comment.

5Pointz murals. Photo by Pelle Sten, via Flickr.

5Pointz murals. Photo by Pelle Sten, via Flickr.

The Wolkoff family has owned the 5Pointz site for more than 40 years. In 1993, they began inviting graffiti artists to use the property as a canvas. Over the next two decades, some 1,500 artists contributed to the constantly evolving site, often painting over one another’s work, with the knowledge that the Wolkoffs had long-term plans to tear down the factory and build luxury housing on the site.

The City Council granted approval to raze 5Pointz and replace it with condos in May 2013. Despite the legal efforts of the 5Pointz artists to block the buildings’ demolition, federal judge Frederic Block found in November of that year that the Wolkoffs had the right to build on the property.

“I love the work and it’s going to tear my heart out to see it torn down, but as a judge I have to apply the law,” wrote Block, denying an injunction that would have preserved the site. “The building, unfortunately, is going to have to come down.”

That month, the Wolkoffs whitewashed the building. Demolition began the following August.

Art from 5Pointz by Kid Lew, as included in Google’s Street Art Project.

In response, the artists filed a lawsuit claiming that their rights under VARA had been violated and the developer had wrongfully destroyed artworks of “recognized stature.” They were not given advance notice of the whitewashing and were unable to remove or document their work.

The case went to trial and was closely monitored given its potential to legitimize the work of graffiti artists. The surprise verdict in favor of the artists was delivered in November and Block’s final ruling was issued this month. “If not for Wolkoff’s insolence, these damages would not have been assessed,” he wrote. “If he did not destroy 5Pointz until he received his permits and demolished it 10 months later, the court would not have found that he had acted willfully.”

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