There are many who view graffiti as something less than a form of visual arts – but now the artists of Long Island City, Queens’ 5Pointz complex have 6.7 million reasons to prove them wrong. There was widespread outrage in the hip-hop and wider arts community when beloved New York City graffiti haven 5Pointz was destroyed in 2013. It was known for its expansive visual art that could be seen from a distance on New York’s seven train line.
When the developer who bought the property, Jerry Wolkoff, destroyed the complex, he took away a global landmark for the Graffiti culture. He believed that it was his property and he could do what he wanted with it. However, in November, a New York civil jury ruled that Wolkoff violated V.A.R.A., or the Visual Artists’ Rights Act, which protects public art displays of “recognized stature.” Considering that 5Pointz was lovingly called “the world’s largest open-air aerosol museum,” it had stature.
That’s why 21 artists were rewarded $6.7 million in damages from a New York City court yesterday. The New York Times reports that at one point Judge Frederic Block altered his final decision to make the ruling merely “a recommendation,” but he then upheld the civil jury who decided that 36 of the pieces of art could be protected under V.A.R.A.
The artists’ lawyer, Eric Baum, noted that the judgment was “a victory not only for the artists in this case, but for artists all around the country.” He added that, “the clear message is that art protected by federal law must be cherished and not destroyed. With this win, the spirit of 5Pointz becomes a legacy for generations of artists to come.”