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5Pointz Developer Says He Will Appeal Judge’s Ruling Awarding $6.75 Million to Graffiti Artists

View of the front of 5Pointz in Queens NY (2013). Photo by Ezmosis/Creative Commons)

Feb. 15, 2018  By Christian Murray and Nathaly Pesantez

The developer of the former 5Pointz site says he will appeal a federal judge’s ruling awarding $6.75 million to 21 artists whose rights were violated when he whitewashed and destroyed their works in 2013.

Jerry Wolkoff, the owner of the site where two luxury residential buildings are now rising, says the Feb. 12 ruling by Eastern District Judge Frederic Block “makes no sense.”

“The whole thing is so silly,” Wolkoff told the LIC Post. “They shouldn’t get one penny. Hopefully the judges [in appeals court] will see how ridiculous this all is.”

Wolkoff argued throughout the five-year case that the artists’ murals were not protected because of their ephemeral nature. He also said the artists were aware that the building would one day be demolished, and that as property owner, he has the right to do as he wishes with his site.

“They always knew that one day I would be taking it down,” Wolkoff said.

7-Angle Illusion by Jonathan Cohen, one of the 45 works awarded statutory damages. Each work was awarded $150,000, and Cohen, the curator of 5Pointz and the plaintiff with the most murals, was awarded over $1.35 million in the case.

In his decision, Block said that 45 of the works under question were protected under federal law. The damages assessed for each art piece was $150,000.

Wolkoff’s choice to willfully paint over them, Block added, was the leading factor in the court’s ruling to award damages.

“If not for Wolkoff’s insolence, these damages would not have been assessed,” Block 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.”

But Wolkoff said the artists had more than enough time to save their art works, since he had started to seek municipal approval for his condos well over a year before the November 2013 whitewashing of the murals. And prior to that, rumors of his plans to shut down 5Pointz first appeared in 2011, according to court documents.

“For two years there were all these hearings by the city, and [the artists] came out fighting to save it,” Wolkoff said.

Block, however, wrote that Wolkoff “could care less” about giving the artists time to salvage their works, and spoke to his “recalcitrant behavior” both in his whitewashing and in court.

“He was bent on doing it his way, and just as he ignored the artists’ rights he also ignored the many efforts the Court painstakingly made to try to have him responsively answer the questions posed to him,” Block wrote.

He added that the court could only logically infer that that Wolkoff’s whitewashing “was an act of pure pique and revenge.”

Eric Baum, the lawyer representing the artists, said the court found that Wolkoff violated federal law, and that an appeal, if actually filed, would be unsuccessful.

“We don’t see any basis on appeal for overturning any part of the court’s decision,” Baum said.

The lawyer added that Wolkoff did not respect the rights of the artists he allowed to have paint over the warehouse, and that he could have given them a 90 day notice under VARA to protect and record their works.

“It could have limited his responsibility,” Baum said. “Coupled with showing dignity and respect, and a proper goodbye to their artwork.”

Baum said that the litigation concerned the competing rights of Wolkoff as owner of the site versus the intellectual property rights of the artists.

“Wolkoff owned the real estate, but he did not own the art,” the lawyer said. “Both could have lived in harmony with one another, but he took matters into his own hands.”

Wolkoff declined to say when he would be filing the appeal.

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37 Comments

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Art Snob

The old buildings could have easily been converted to a desperately needed school. Just don’t ask JVB about that and the check he got from Wolkoff, he might throw a tanty.




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young_man!

I wonder how many of these graffiti artists ever got anywhere near $150,000 for any of their prior works.
Quite the gift by the judge to people who were trying to rob the owner of full value of his property by having it designated a landmark.
I thought it would be cool to have some art on the side of a building I own but that idea went out the window a couple years ago with this lawsuit.
Lawyer representing artists is big winner as he is probably walking away with $2+ million.




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Art Snob

Actually, many of them make a living off their art and work for corporate clients. So yeah, 150k is a very realistic number.




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young_man!

Maybe $150k a year (though probably not), definitely not $150k for each work.

Glad that the owner is appealing this crazy award.




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Tom

Let me get this straight! The owner graciously allowed these people to spray paint his property basically providing a free & safe street canvas. The owner then wanted to sell his property and these folks tried to get his property land marked which would’ve destroyed the property value. The owner then decides to paint over his own property and the judge sided with the graffiti artists for $6.75 million. WOW THAT’S BS!
The moral of the story is DONT LET ANYONE SPRAY PAINT ON YOUR PROPERTY EVER !!!!!




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Nana

Nope, you got that wrong. The owner had a derelict building that no one would rent because it was dangerous to occupy. He was holding on to it for decades without putting a cent into its upkeep for decades. Then, artists, who need lots of space, started putting money in his pocket while he waited for the REBNY to push through the zoning changes that would make him, already wealthy, much wealthier. Then, he screwed over the people who had been paying him, watching over his property and making it far more famous than it ever would have been without their sheer creativity and hard work. He is NOT a nice guy. He is a rapacious, greedy, deceitful person.




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Tom

That entire area was considered “dangerous” and full of “derelict” buildings but it went through gentrification & now selling for top dollar. If the owner was holding the building vacant for decades because it was dangerous to occupy then he must of paid a ton of property taxes with no money coming in. We can’t blame the owner for eventually selling his property for a profit especially after decades of losing money. After reading this article I will again strongly advise all property owners to NEVER EVER LET ANYONE SPRAY PAINT ON YOU PROPERTY!!!!!




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MB

These artists knew the building was going to come down. They did what to preserve their art? Nothing. Then this lawyer says hey – cash for everyone so they say YEAH! the real crime here is that these artists would not have had the “canvas” they had if the owner did not allow it. No thanks for that. These greedy self serving artists should realize that they are killing all future oportunities for their art or future artists work on buildings. Because NO ONE WILL ALLOW IT IN THE FUTURE BECAUSE OF THIS GREEDY ABUSE OF THE OWNERS RIGHTS. Never again will their be a 5pointz because no landlord will open themselves up to this risk EVER AGAIN. These artists are responsible for the end of cooperating landowners. They are responsible for killing future opportunities. Who stopped them from recording their work? They shoul dbe thanking Wolkoff fo rthe opportunity to express their art in the first place. Such a load of greedy self serving artists.




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Annab

GD Greedy Artists!!! Benevolent Property Developers!! Wow, you live in a really interesting world there, MB.

OK, back to the real world. The artists took numerous steps to protect their work. You can read the account here: “When word began to leak that Wolkoff and his father, fellow developer David Wolkoff, planned to raze the celebrated building to make way for a $400 million luxury rental condo development, a group of 17 artists filed a lawsuit to protect their work and possibly earn the site a historic designation. ”

But Wolkoff whitewashed it – illegally – before the case could proceed. Because he knew he would likely lose. https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/5-pointz-developer-who-whitewashed-artists-murals-forced-to-pay-them-67-million




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geez

it’s not illegal to whitewash your own property, and he shouldnt lose his investment in real estate due to his graciousness allowing them to paint there for so many years. The artists looked a gift horse in the mouth in seeking landmark status essentially trying to bar the owner for taking profits on his investments. MB is right, it’s doubtful any future prop owners will offer their space to artists for fear that it will cost them in the end when they decide that they want to change the use case for their OWNED property.




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MB

So the action wa snot to “preserve their art” but to try and take the owners property rights away legally by “historic designation”. And I live in a strange world? You think they didnt have time to preserve their work, but they had time to file requests to make the building an historic landmark? LOL




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Anonymous

This started out as graffiti the owner was good enough to give them permission to spray paint his property I rode the 7 train every day and saw the eye sore thats what you call art!!!!




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J

It wasn’t vandalism as they were given permission by their landlord, Wolkoff, to graffiti the building and use it as an outdoor art exhibition. It wasn’t a free-for-all either as the space was curated.




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Anonymous

By curated you mean they painted over existing works every few months? Same thing the owner did, just this time he wouldn’t let the “artists” come back. No real loss.




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Nobleshit

What a terrible monster this landlord is, why did you ever paint on his building in the first place? I know so many other people are just dying to pay you commissions so you should look them up.




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Asparagus Tip

Why weren’t these graffiti vandals suing each other when one of them covered up the other’s vandalism?




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Annab

These were painted with the permission of Wolkoff. It was not vandalism. He was in full knowledge of the painting, gave his permission, and got rich off of the attention.




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geez

did he charge admission to view the artwork? I don’t remember paying to view it. So how did he get rich? By turning his real estate investment into something profitable just like every other real estate owner in LIC is doing?




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MB

How exactly did he get rich off the attention? He has lost money because of these cash grabs disguised as lawsuits.




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MRLIC

Mr. Wolkoff you are a LIAR and have no compassion for anyone but the almighty dollar. Had you worked with the artists instead of whitewashing their work over night (Sneaky), things could have worked out for both parties. I am glad you LOST and hope you lose your appeal. Frank there is a law in NY the Artists V.A.R.A. (Artists Visual Rights Act) that enabled the artists to sue and win.




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MRIRONY

Yes, another example of greedy luxury NY real estate developers who don’t care about the working class, only about making more money for themselves, just like the person you voted for for president.




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Frank

So, a judge is saying that a building owner cannot paint his building? I hope Wolkoff wins on appeal – these graffiti “artist” are a bunch of snowflake turds. They have no rights when painting someone else’s wall.




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Annab

Wolkoff gave permission to the artists – many of whom are exhibited in major museums – to do this work. He got rich off of the attraction it brought to his properties. He could have waited to take the work down legally, but he did not.




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Anonymous

You keep saying Wolkoff became rich off these “artist’s” work. Please explain this statement. The so called art had no value, that is why it is now landfill. The value of the site was and is proximity to and view of Manhattan.




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Annab

If he didn’t capitalize off of his association with 5Pointz, why did he repeatedly try to trademark the name? He used the artwork to attract renters to the artists’ studios when no one else would rent there, and tried to use the name on the new luxury highrise. The history of Wolkoff’s real estate empire begins and ends with 5Pointz.




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J

If I own an apartment building, I don’t have the right to destroy the contents of a tenant’s rented unit because I own the building. Even if I am in the process of evicting them, I still don’t have that right. Same situation here. Wolkoff had an agreement with 5Pointz where he basically rented the building to them for this specific purpose. When his tenants contested their eviction, he destroyed their belongings without notice months before demolition. In this case, it was their artworks. Some of which could have been preserved and all of which could have been properly documented and photographed if the artists were given notice. This wasn’t a case of the owner painting the entire building to improve the look. This was just splotches of white paint over the artworks in order to destroy them.




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geez

not the same – the artists weren’t paying rent like a tenant does. AND he painted over them because they were pushing for landmark status, which effectively would have been theft of the property and it’s revenue potential from it’s owner in exchange for his gracious hospitality letting them paint all these years.




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DanR

Improve the look? If this look was so valuable then why did the owner want to cover it all up with whitewash? One idiot keeps saying how he made money off of the artwork, so called artwork, but he made not one dime. It cost money to cover it up. It’s nice to talk about compassion when someone else is paying for it. These alleged artists, and they are not artists, are thieves and they lucked out with some ultra left wing judge who should be impeached. Congress should throw this judge out as fast as possible. He is a communist that McCarthy clearly missed. This is what will happen if we ever let these lefties get power over us. This is the same kind of thing the Nazis did in Germany before WWII. Don’t just laugh this off, people. This is dangerous stuff, real dangerous. This enemy of the public so-called Judge Block is a real enemy of America. Can you even imagine the founders of this country doing something like this?




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Annab

The case was decided by a civil jury. What is dangerous – real dangerous – is smearing a judge issuing a ruling based on established federal law and decided by a civil jury as communist. That is what we lived through in the McCarthy era you so fondly recall. If the established federal law (VARA, passed by Congress in 1990 and signed into law by Republican President George H.W. Bush) is unconstitutional, that can be decided upon appeal by higher courts, up to and including the Supreme Court. That is how the founders of our country, in their wisdom, framed the law. While I think you are probably one of the infamous Sunnyside Post trolls living in his mother’s basement, a familiarity with jurisprudence and the Constitution of this great nation would serve you well, if you ever decide to venture outside.




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Scott Weislogel

What is art to you?Art is whatever can take ones eye to imagination or inspire feelings,some enjoy listening to Tony Bennet others Kendrick Lamar some both but no one has the right to disrespect work done by any artist .Dont like then don’t look .The artists were granted permission and the owner was a great guy back then now he’s a villain.I don’t know the legal details but somehow I bet the art work benefited the owner yet as an artist myself I would be heart broken but also be honored to have had my work displayed on what they knew was a temporary canvas.In art school they teach you to destroy a work you love ,reason being you did it once you can do it again and if you sell a work you have to say goodbye anyway such is the nature of visual art of this nature.Please think before you condemn any art work while it may not be for you it may mean the world to others that also is the nature of all art




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