Graffiti Artists Awarded $6.7M from Landlord Who Destroyed Their Work

Prior to 2013, a warehouse in Queens known as 5Pointz was a
graffiti mecca packed with murals and other work by hundreds of
artists, many of whom rented space inside the building. That
is, until owner Gerald Wolkoff suddenly and without warning
whitewashed the entire facade under a messy coat of paint.
Wolkoff had been planning to tear the building down for a
while, and the artists were in the process of trying to stop
him under the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA), which protects
“works of recognized stature.”

5pointz

@ 5pointz

Jake Thomashow

The court had no time to make a decision before Wolkoff’s
drastic action, and a showcase of graffiti art was instantly
destroyed. Perhaps Wolkoff wasn’t expecting the judge to deem
the graffiti of ‘sufficient stature’ to protect, much less
grant a significant monetary value, but clearly he was wrong.
In November 2017, a jury ruled in favor of the artists, and
this week, a federal judge in Brooklyn delivered the final
blow: Wolkoff, a real estate developer,
owes 21 artists a combined $6.7 million.

5 Pointz Art

5Pointz

5 pointz

“Rather than wait for the court’s opinion, Wolkoff destroyed
almost all of the plaintiff’s paintings by whitewashing them
during that eight-day interim,” said Judge Frederic Block in
his 100-page decision. “The sloppy, half-hearted nature of the
whitewashing left the works easily visible under thin layers of
cheap, white paint, reminding the plaintiffs on a daily basis
what had happened.”

When the Skies Came Out

5 Pointz Art

X Men

Trash or Treasure?

“Since 5Pointz was a prominent tourist attraction the public
would undoubtedly have thronged to say its goodbyes during
those ten months and gaze at the formidable works of aerosol
art for the last time. It would have been a wonderful tribute
for the artists that they richly deserved.”

Top image:
iamNigelMorris/Flickr Creative Commons

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