One of the two reasons to visit Long Island City is no more, as graffiti mecca 5Pointz has been painted over with white paint. The sprawling abandoned warehouse has been a regular, and internationally renowned, canvas for street artists since the 1990s. Open to anyone with spray paint, 5Pointz was a creative free-for-all that saw both local artists and prominent figures alike marking up the brick. As street art continues to make itself comfortable in the mainstream art world, and the discourse continues to invite countercultural participants, the destruction of 5Pointz now is especially disillusioning. Already considered an iconic shrine in the international graffiti community, imagine what 5Pointz could have meant in that discourse when the art form inevitably reaches critical mass. Somewhere, Steve Lazarides is shuddering at the thought of all the missed opportunities.
In addition to months of petitioning and rallying for support, the artist collective even filed a request for an injunction based on the Visual Artists Rights Act, which protects works of art that have “recognized stature.” Sadly, their efforts were in vain, as Federal Judge Federic Block officially rejected their injunction last Tuesday, allowing developers Jerry and David Wolkoff, who own the 5Pointz building, to go forward with their plans to turn the warehouse into high-end condos. First of all, I never understood how the G train + high-end condos added up. I just don’t get the math there. But either way, the plan to replace the largest graffiti canvas in the world with (presumably) your standard, generic, grayish-blue condos was approved with overwhelming agreement by the City Council in October.
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During court proceedings, 5Pointz lawyers argued that the site is unique in that it houses the largest collection of aerosol art in the world, and that street art is legitimate art. To emphasize the latter point, they brought up Banksy’s name repeatedly, as evidence of street art having “recognized stature.” Banksy, who is generally considered to be the most commercially successful street artist in the world, regularly fetches six figures for his works and is worth an estimated $20 million. I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that Judge Block does not read 12ozProphet regularly and has never seen “Exit Through the Gift Shop.” The evidence is clear that there is value in 5Pointz, monetary and otherwise, but at the end of the day, spray paint and stencils don’t communicate to decision-makers as clearly as the dollar signs attached to a couple of high-rise condos. The judge flatly ruled that property rights trump artist rights in this instance.
Now the Wolkoffs are going forward with their $400 million development plans, which would raze the entire structure and erect one 47-story building and one 41-story building in its place. Even though the demolition won’t happen for a while, Vanishing New York speculates that the building was whitewashed immediately in order to prevent a last-minute landmark initiative, which has the potential to stop the development plans. The graffiti-covered warehouse is not the only thing getting demolished, however, as a bar and an art gallery will also be turned into rubble, innocent casualties in the bitter war on culture that developers continue to wage in this city. But I have a feeling we’ll see these artists return to their old stomping grounds — how much do you want to bet those condos are going to get tagged the fuck up? May the ghosts of graffiti past haunt you forever, condo dwellers.