By Bill Parry
A federal jury was empaneled Monday and began hearing testimony Tuesday as the 5Pointz trial got underwaythis week at the Brooklyn federal courthouse.
Aerosol artists from as far away as Japan, Ecuador and Australia and across the United States packed the courtroom as the eight jurors, including one Astoria resident and an employee of Queens Library, began hearing testimony from artists that painted more than 11,000 murals for nearly 20 years on the warehouse complex at 45-46 Davis St. in Long Island City known worldwide as the graffiti mecca.
Two enormous towers are being built on the property by developer Jerry Wolkoff, who decided in November 2013 to deploy painters in the middle of the night to whitewash all of the murals one week after Brooklyn federal Judge Frederick Block lifted a temporary restraining order. Wolkoff had the site demolished a year later.
Now the jury will decide if the whitewashed artwork falls under the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, which provides for damages if the works are of “recognized stature.” The 21 artists, led by curator Jonathan “Meres” Cohen, will test the VARA protections in front of a jury for the first time in what is being hailed as a landmark case in a trial in which damages could be awarded for the destruction of the murals.
The jury will hear from both sides as well as expert testimony and a key argument will be whether the artwork was mutilated by the whitewashing or if the murals were destroyed by the demolition of the site.
Block is once again presiding over the case, which he expects to take about two weeks.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr