April 10, 2017 By Hannah Wulkan
A group of artists that covered LIC landmark 5Pointz in graffiti art before it was torn down won a legal victory on March 31 when a judge ruled that their case against the developer for destroying their art could proceed.
Artists from around the world had used the building at 45-46 Davis Street as a canvas for aerosol art since 1993, and under an agreement with developer Gerald Wolkoff in 2002, artist Jonathan Cohen, known as Meres1, helped curate the space, which quickly became a landmark and tourist attraction in the area.
When Wolkoff made moves to develop the space in 2013, looking to bring in about 1,000 units between two high-rise buildings, the artists sued to preserve their art.
However once a temporary restraining order had been overturned, Wolkoff whitewashed the building in the middle of the night, preventing the suit from moving forward.
In 2015, the artists filed a new suit against Wolkoff under the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, seeking damages for their destroyed work.
Brooklyn-based judge Frederic Block ruled on March 31 that the case against Wolkoff could proceed, after the developer had tried to get the case dismissed.
“The trial court made two very important rulings, one that aerosol artists stand equal to all other fine art under federal law, and second that we have sufficient evidence for a jury to conclude that the work is protected by federal law,” said Eric Baum, the attorney representing the artists in the lawsuit.
The attorneys will have a conference with the court on Thursday, and then a trial date will be set, likely sometime in May, Baum said.
Wolkoff, who owned the property throughout its use as a canvas for spray-paint art, maintains that he was in the right to paint over the work.
“For 20 some odd years I allowed them to go there and express themselves with their graffiti art and never had a problem but they knew all along that I would be taking down the building,” Wolkoff said. “They painted over one another all the time, either they painted over their work themselves or someone else did, and they knew it was never was supposed to be permanent.”
If Wolkoff is found at fault, a jury will determine the amount of damages awarded to the artists.