NY’s ‘5 Pointz’ graffiti artists awarded US$6.7m after company destroys walls they painted on to build condos

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 February, 2018, 5:07am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 February, 2018, 10:51pm

A New York judge has awarded US$6.7 million to graffiti artists who sued after their work was destroyed on buildings torn down to make room for luxury condos.

Federal Judge Frederic Block in Brooklyn noted Monday there was no remorse from Jerry Wolkoff, the owner of the Queens warehouse buildings known locally as 5 Pointz.

Block said he would not have assessed so much in damages if Wolkoff had awaited his permits and demolished the art 10 months later than he did.

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Twenty-one aerosol artists had sued Wolkoff after he had their vibrant work painted over in 2013. The buildings were then torn down a year later to make way for expensive condos.

Wolkoff allowed the spray-paint artists to use his buildings for decades; they were curated first by Pat DiLillo and later by Jonathan “Meres One” Cohen, who would ensure high quality and that artists were not connected to local gang culture or vandalising local neighbourhoods.

The project, initially known as Graffiti Terminators, later became known under Cohen as 5 Pointz: The Institute of Higher Burnin', 5Pointz Aerosol Art Center, Inc - and ultimately simply “5 Pointz” or “5Pointz”.

Monday’s ruling followed a three-week trial in November in which Wolkoff protested that the artists always knew the buildings would be torn down someday.

The artists sued Wolkoff under the Visual Artists Rights Act, a 1990 federal law that protects artists’ rights even if someone else owns the physical artwork.

A jury in federal court in Brooklyn heard three weeks’ worth of testimony, but the lawyers for the two sides agreed to have Block render a verdict and use the jury’s ruling only as a recommendation.

Eric Baum, a lawyer for the 21 artists who sued Wolkoff, said that because the case involves “complex issues of fact and law” he believes it is important “to have input from members of the community on all issues but ultimately have the court make a final decision.”