21 artists first sued developer Gerald Wolkoff in 2013 for whitewashing their art displayed at 5Pointz.
A few years back, 5Pointz in Long Island City, Queens was demolished. Now, the developer is being held accountable for destroying the historic mecca.
According to Gothamist, 21 graffiti artists are set to receive $6.75 million in statutory damages for the destruction. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals issued this decision Thursday, it upholds the ruling made by a lower court in 2018 to award the aforementioned amount.
Developer Gerald Wolkoff was originally sued by the artists and the lawsuit was filed under the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990. The artists sought to justify that their work at the Queens factory was work of “recognized stature.” The New York Daily News reports that Judge Barrington Parker wrote the following in his decision: “Although a work’s short lifespan means that there will be fewer opportunities for the work to be viewed and evaluated, the temporary nature of the art is not a bar to recognized stature.”
One plaintiff, artist Jonathan Cohen (Meres One) was asked by Wolkoff in 2002 to convert dilapidated warehouses on Jackson Ave in Long Island City into what it would later become, an expansive exhibition space. It had once been home to a water meter factory.
In 2013, Wolkoff reportedly decided to demolish 5Pointz to build luxury condominiums. Cohen and countless artists worked tirelessly to not allow this to happen. The group fired back by attempting to have 5Pointz landmarked by the city and unsuccessfully aimed to get an injunction to prevent demolition. During this time, city representatives were battling with Wolkoff who was now offering additional space for affordable housing and artists’ studios.
Gothamist reports that on November 19, 2013, before receiving permits to proceed with demolition, Wolkoff chose to paint over the walls of 5Pointz overnight. Directly following two dozen artists including Cohen sued for “not having legal notice of the destruction of their artwork.” Judge Frederick Block issued the $6.75 million judgement standing in agreeance with the artists. In his decision, 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.”
Despite the ruling, the 5Pointz luxury condos have been completed. Wolkoff also built an additional 112 units.
On the updated Second Circuit Court decision, the lawyer for the artists, Eric Baum shared, “The finding is a clear indication these artists’ work is important and should be respected.” He also continued and stated that no one is above the law and that “everyone must be held accountable for their actions.”
Robyn Mowatt is a staff writer at Okayplayer where she covers culture, music, and fashion. You can see what's on her mind @robyn_mowatt.