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Artists Awarded $6.7 Million in 5Pointz Case After Judge Rules Developer Destroyed Dozens of Artworks

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

Feb. 13, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez

A federal judged awarded $6.7 million to the 21 graffiti artists who sued the real estate developer of the 5Pointz site after he white washed and destroyed their art works five years ago.

The decision was issued on Monday by U.S. District Judge Frederic Block, who ruled that the plaintiffs receive the maximum damages possible for dozens of destroyed art works at the former 5Pointz site, an abandoned warehouse in Long Island City that became a worldwide attraction for its aerosol murals through the building.

The court case, dating back to 2015, centered on whether the rights of the artists, under the Visual Artists Rights Act, were violated when Jerry Wolkoff, the developer of the site, painted over the murals and effectively destroyed them in 2013.

5Pointz after the artwork outside the building was whitewashed by Jerry Wolkoff, the site’s developer. (Photo courtesy of Timothy Krause via Flickr)

The jury in the case sided with the plaintiffs in a November verdict, finding that Wolkoff did violate the rights of the graffiti artists. Wolkoff maintained through the case that the works were not protected by law, and that he had the right to do as he wished on his property.

But in upholding the jury’s verdict, which was used as a recommendation, Block said that Wolkoff decision to paint over the artworks in the middle of the night, especially when the building was set to be demolished 10 months later, was the point that tipped the scales in the case.

“If not for Wolkoff’s insolence, these damages would not have been assessed,” Block wrote, according to the Daily News. “If he did not destroy 5 Pointz until he received his permits and demolished it 10 months later, the Court would not have found that he had acted willfully.”

The former 5Pointz site, where two residential buildings are currently under construction, saw hundreds of aerosol murals (with permission from Wolkoff) in the building’s interior and exterior through its 20 year run.

Eric Baum, the lawyer representing the artists, and David Ebert, Wolkoff’s lawyer, did not respond to a request for comment on the judge’s decision.

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16 Comments

MRLIC

The FAKE MRLIC wrote the February 13, 2018 comment. My comment is I agree with LIC Neighbor. The owner Jerry Wolkoff should have struck a deal with the artists and rotate the work every year or 2. Everybody wins. I am glad this loser owner lost $6.7 million. He also was given air rights to build up to 40 stories. In return for the extra air rights he agreed to use UNION LABOR. He lied and used NON-UNION LABOR. There seems to be a UNION RAT there every day. I am glad he lost the case and the $6.7 million.




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MRIRONY

Reminds me of all the illegal labor that Trump used as a real estate developer building Trump Tower.




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Anonymous

How does someone else have rights to your property beyond what you grant them? After a decision like this why would anyone extend themselves knowing it may cost them liabilities? No good deed goes unpunished rings loudly here.




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try reading sometime

The article mentions VARA:

>Under VARA, works of art that meet certain requirements afford their authors additional rights in the works, regardless of any subsequent physical ownership of the work itself […]. For instance, a painter may insist on proper attribution of his painting, and in some instances may sue the owner of the physical painting for destroying the painting even if the owner of the painting lawfully owned it.

So they broke the law. Don’t like the law? Vote to change it. But if you’re too dumb to understand it, please refrain from whining on the internet.




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Bill

It’s the law so it must be fair and you must be so intelligent to understand it. Wow thank you for enlightening everyone.
This is the law stretched to fit something for which it doesn’t apply. Hopefully the developer will appeal and win. If you don’t like it buy your own building, poor ass.




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rigged system

Lawyers are wonderful at exploiting the many various laws to their own benefit. Spirit of the law when it suits them, letter of the law when it suits them. Not familiar with every article and subdivision of the thousands of laws that govern you? Not familiar with the numerous case laws pertaining to issues that may or may not have an effect on you? Not versed in the minute legal details that lawyers cherry pick and specialize in? Too bad.. got ya…it’s the law! And it’s not even that simple as case outcomes often vary based on aspects other then the facts….. appellate courts overturn decisions, supreme courts over turn appellate courts. Forget health care reform, we need tort reform. Like trump or not he’s right on one thing, the system is rigged.




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Bill

Uhhh, you can’t sell 600k shoebox sizes studios in a building with graffiti all over it. Although the developer was douchey in painting over everything in the middle of the night, at the end of the day it’s his building and he should be able to do whatever he wants with it. This case reminds me of eminent domain, a glorified excuse to take possession of or profit from someone else’s property.




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brooklynmc

This kind of BS just hurts artists. A few jerks got a payday but who is ever going to let an artist paint on a building again? Nobody. It reminds me of the people in LIC that sued the developer who made a temporary park on land that was not being developed yet. It was always meant to be temporary but a few precious people decided they wanted it to be permanent. Again, developers would be smart to just put up a chain link fence and douse the lot with weed killer and rat killer.




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When the Gov't Fears the People

Van Bramer prostituted LIC out to the highest bidder. There was no value towards artistic expression when Bramer opened the flood gates. Sell-out plain and simple.




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anon

It pains me to agree with brooklynmc but he is right. Never under any circumstance allow a group to use your property no matter how noble the cause may seem. They inevitably begin to think that they actually own your property, and will vilify you if and when you want to change the one way arrangement that they have enjoyed. No good deed goes unpunished is not strong enough to convey this screwjob. On the other hand the landlord left us looking at this dump for all these years so it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.




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Anonymous

he was generous to give the backstabbing thugs a nice canvas for a long time. Ungrateful bastards. I cant believe people would do this.




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your neighbor

Chump change for a development of this size.
The cost of the fine is going to be passed on to the condo buyers or renters of the new homes being built.
It is also a business expense, so fully deductible from income taxes!




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MRLIC

Happy with this outcome. A bunch of my gang tags got whitewashed by this GREEDY developer. Crip4lyfe.




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LIC Neighbor

If the developer had any sense he would have kept the facade of the old building constructed above it or before he painted over the Graffiti he would have struck a deal with the artists that on the new building he would allow new art to be painted on the new building to used as a canvas – allowed them to paint on the new construction setting aside large swaths of the property as a canvas in an organized and controlled manner so that murals could go up and rotate every year or two amongst different artists making his new property unique and an evolving work of art. A lost opportunity on both sides.




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Anon

Tourists from all over used to come to LIC just to see 5Pointz. I know this for a fact because I got stopped on many occasions by people asking for directions. What do they get to see now? Glass towers? Lost opportunity, indeed.




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Anonymous

F&$k tourists, it was an eyesore. Hopefully an appeal overturns this case and the Visual Artist B.S. Act in general.




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