You are reading

Federal Appeals Court Upholds 5 Pointz Artists’ $6.7 Million Award, Pans Wolkoff

Photo: George Burles

Feb. 21, 2020 By Kristen Torres

A federal appeals court judge approved a $6.7 million award Thursday for nearly two dozen graffiti artists whose work was whitewashed to make way for luxury high-rises at a Long Island City complex previously known as 5Pointz.

A judge for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals approved a 2018 decision to award $150,000 for each of the 45 works that were destroyed by the building owner in a 32-page ruling.

Owner Jerry Wolkoff painted over the artists’ aerosol artwork– which was prominently displayed on his Davis Street warehouse buildings–in 2013. Twenty-one artists were part of the suit.

Appeals Court Judge Barrington Parker ruled that Wolkoff’s decision to erase the artwork was in violation of the Visual Artists Rights Act, which is a part of federal copyright law.

Judge Parker denounced nearly every part of Wolkoff’s argument against the artists, and even used Wolkoff’s expert’s words against him in the rebuttal.

The day after 5Pointz was whitewashed by developer Jerry Wolkoff Photo: LICPost

“We see nothing in VARA that excludes temporary artwork from attaining recognized stature,” Parker wrote. “Unhelpful to this contention is the fact that Wolkoff’s own expert acknowledged that temporary artwork can achieve recognized stature.”

Wolkoff enlisted the help of Jonathan Cohen, also known as Meres One, in 2002 to turn his dilapidated warehouse buildings into exhibition space for artists.

Cohen, who served as curator, rented studio space in the warehouses alongside other artists.

5Pointz eventually evolved into a major global center for aerosol art under Cohen’s leadership, attracting “thousands of daily visitors, numerous celebrities and extensive media coverage,” according to court documents.

Wolkoff, however, sought city approval in 2013 to tear down the complex and replace it with luxury apartments. Many of the artists were protesting his plans at the time.

The artists filed suit in Brooklyn federal court to stop Wolkoff from demolishing the buildings in the summer of 2013 under VARA. The law grants artist the right to prevent destruction of their work if it has received “recognized stature.”

However, in November 2013 Wolkoff hired painters to whitewash the artwork in the middle of night. He banned the artists from the site and refused to allow them to recover any work that could be removed, according to court records.

The buildings were later demolished in 2014.

A jury ruled in favor of the artists in November 2017, and found that Wolkoff had “willfully” disregarded his requirement under the VARA to give the artists’ 90 days notice before destroying their work.

Photo: LICPost

U.S. District Judge Frederic Block, who made the $6.7 million award in 2018, said in his decision that the sudden destruction of the artwork was an act of “revenge for the nerve of the plaintiffs to sue to attempt to prevent the destruction of their art.”

Eric Baum, the artists’ lawyer, said the Second Circuit’s decision Thursday is a “monumental win for the rights of all artists in this country.”

“This decision ensures that future artists and their moral rights will have the protections that they and their works of art rightfully deserve,” he added.

email the author: [email protected]

16 Comments

Click for Comments 
Frustrated

what is the world coming to? you generously let some artists vandalize your property and then they sue you?

Reply
The Last Republican in Astoria

Insanity. The Wolkoffs are the only reason that this place was able to exist for so many years. I admired many of the works on display over the years and there should be a venue like this available to these talented artists. However, private property is private property and the owners should not face financial penalties for removing it. Ridiculous.

25
4
Reply
Saigon11

That is crazy. The owner should sue for vandalizing his building. So if I spray paint my name and some stick figures on a building and the owners clean it off I can sue the building for erasing my quote unquote art work?????What alternate planet are we living in???

29
6
Reply
OAR

This was not vandalism done Illegally. The Artists had the owners permission to paint on the building. The owner white washed it in the darkness of nighttime, out of Spite and months before it was torn down, never giving the Artist’s the opportunity to photograph the work or find a way to remove it prior to demolition. You obviously never saw the building or you would know that it wasn’t stick figures. It was really amazing artwork. It brought people from all over the world to see it.

5
18
Reply
pol

Good. Visited the cramped and dangerous loft spaces. Wolkoff extracted rents for tiny workspaces, then robbed artists of their work by locking them out. Despicable.

5
26
Reply
CG

Graffiti by definition is the vandalism of another person’s Property. It wa Wolkoffs property. Anything that went on there with hos permission was his right to grant and his right to revoke. To be threatened or stripped of the right to do with his property as he wished is patently outrageous. Wolkoff did what he had to do in order to protect his property rights. The artists are free to go paint new works elsewhere (preferably not on the side of someone else’s property but on Canvas. Vandalism is not art. Painting cartoons with spraypaint
On the side of someone else’s property doesnt grant you any rights.

37
9
Reply
I'mNotALawyer,But....

Wrong…the lesson is, if you commission a group of artists to present their works for the public, give them an opportunity to salvage and/or recover said works before you destroy everything in the middle of the night

11
15
Reply
FromLICQueens

What!? So, if a graffiti “artist” vandalizes your property and you, for some reason, let that remain there for a while, you have to pay restitution when you decide to paint over it? What’s next, banning private ownership of property?

30
12
Reply
ReadingIsFundamental

Wolkoff ENLISTED THE HELP of Jonathan Cohen, also known as Meres One, in 2002 to turn his dilapidated warehouse buildings into exhibition space for artists.

Cohen, who served as curator, rented studio space in the warehouses alongside other artists.

*emphasis mine

3
4
Reply
Mac

From LICQueens- You obviously don’t know the details of the case or have even read the article. Shame on you. All opinion way short on facts and details. The Fox Entertainment approach.

4
18
Reply
5Pointz Forever

I wish I could like this post. I took the train everyday and witnessed the downfall of the structure. It broke my heart to see something so meaningful in NYC being torn down.

11
19
Reply
5Pointz Whatever

Speaking for every native New Yorker a) not from LIC and b) not particularly a fan of graffiti, I couldn’t give two sh*ts about the 5Pointz. In no way was it anything special or a landmark or anything anyone cared about.

Tear it down, whitewash it, whatever. It means nothing to anyone outside of the grafitti world or the out-of-town hipsters and millennials who think it’s art.

26
6
Reply
But whatever

So many people think it’s art and it had local support… hipster would think it’s cool but real New Yorkers (from the streets) know it’s more than that.

2
3
Reply
young_man!

The Wolkoffs were very nice to allow the artists to use their building as a canvas for so many years. I guess the old adage that no good deed goes unpunished is true.

You can be 100% certain that no building owner is ever going to allow anything like this again.

39
6
Reply

Leave a Comment
Reply to this Comment

All comments are subject to moderation before being posted.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Recent News

Queens Public Hospital Thrust into ‘Center of Crisis’ as Coronavirus Deaths Mount

The city’s public Elmhurst Hospital in Queens has been overrun with seriously ill coronavirus patients — including 13 who died in a 24-hour span, officials said Wednesday.

A spokesperson for the city public hospital systems said Elmhurst is “at the center of this crisis,” and that the number of deaths recorded between Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday afternoon was consistent with the crush of patients.