Justice for 5Pointz
Court of Appeals upholds decision awarding $6.75 million
to 5Pointz artists whose works were destroyed
BY BILL PARRY
Developer Jerry Wolkoff is
going to have to pay millions
in damages for destroying the
5Pointz graffiti mecca back in
November 2013 in an effort to tear down
the dilapidated warehouse complex so he
could build two luxury residential towers in
Long Island City.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals
upheld Federal Judge Frederick Block’s
$6.75 million judgement against Wolkoff,
ruling that his whitewashing of the murals
at 5Pointz violated the federal Visual Artists
“I’m very happy,” 5Pointz Founder and
Curator Jonathan “Meres One” Cohen
said. “I never would have thought that four
federal judges would validate graffiti art as
legitimate art and that’s what they’ve done
with this landmark ruling. I’m numb to it still.”
The decision sets a precedent for future
aerosol artists in that VARA had never been
used in a case involving graffiti art.
“The statute recognizes that, unlike
novelists, or composers, for example,
visual artists depend on the integrity of
the physical manifestations of their works,”
U.S. Circuit Judge Barrington D. Parker Jr.
wrote in the 32-page ruling on behalf of
the three-judge panel.
Wolkoff, who named his new complex
5Pointz Towers, argued that the temporary
Bill Parry 5Pointz became a hip hop hotspot
quality of the murals didn’t meet with VARA
standards and that the artists covered their
own works to make way for new murals.
“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,” Parker wrote.
In 2002, Wolkoff allowed Cohen and
graffiti artists from around the world to
fill the warehouse walls with aerosol art
and before long 5Pointz became a tourist
attraction and epicenter of the New York
City hip-hop scene.
When Judge Block issued his decision
in February 2018 following a three-week
jury trial at Federal District Court in
18 MARCH 2020 I LIC COURIER I www.qns.com
Brooklyn, he praised the 21 artists who
filed suit writing that they “conducted
themselves with dignity, maturity, respect,
and at all times within the law,” adding that
their behavior contributed to his decision to
award them significant damages.
“The legacy of 5Pointz may be
this ruling and the clear statement
that aerosol art and public art are not
disposable. The 21 plaintiffs, including
myself, believed in the law and stood up
for our rights, we believed in the value of
our art and we were heard,” Cohen said
at the time. “The art adorning 5Pointz is
gone and can never be replaced, the 7
train commute will never be the same, but
Honorable Judge Block’s judgement is
historical for generations of artists all
around the country. 5Pointz art was a
true form of free speech, and this ruling
honors this great American tradition of
standing up for your rights.”
As Wolkoff and his son David prepare
to open the 5Pointz Towers in May, they
also have a big decision to make.
“I don’t know what happens next, that’s
what David and I are contemplating right
now, whether to end this right now or take
it to the Supreme Court and we have 90
days to decide,” Wolkoff said. “The worst
part about all this is I still think I’m right but
the whole world thinks I’m wrong. Yeah, I
painted over it, but they painted over it, too.
I guess I’ll just have to live with it.”
before developer Jerry Wolkoff
ordered its art whitewashed and court
rules he owes millions in damages.