5Pointz artists awarded $6.7 million for destroyed graffiti as developer vows appeal

5Pointz artists awarded $6.7 million for destroyed graffiti as developer vows appeal
Photo by Christina Santucci
By Bill Parry

A federal judge in Brooklyn ruled in favor of the 5Pointz artists Monday, ordering developer Jerry Wolkoff to pay $6.7 million in compensation for ordering the whitewashing of the world famous graffiti mecca in November 2013.

In his 100-page decision, Judge Frederick Block awarded the maximum of $150,000 for each of the 45 murals that were destroyed in the dark of night without warning at the Long Island City warehouse complex, which was torn down a year later to make way for two residential towers.

The ruling followed a three-week trial at Federal District Court in November with the jury finding Wolkoff had violated the federal Visual Artists Rights Act — which was enacted in 1990 and grants artists the rights to prevent intentional modification of their visual artworks and the destruction or mutilation of artworks “of a recognized stature.” It is the first time VARA has been used to protect aerosol artwork.

“5Pointz was its temple, though it can never be replaced, this judgement is a monumental step for our culture and our art form,” 5Pointz Curator Jonathan “Meres” Cohen told artnet News following the ruling. “Judge Block’s decision will change the art form perception for generations to come.”

In his decision, Judge Block wrote, “If not for Wolkoff’s insolence, these damages would not have been assessed. If he did not destroy 5Pointz until he received his permits and demolished it 10 months later, the Court would not have found that he had acted willfully.”

Wolkoff was stunned by the judge’s ruling.

“What permits?” he asked. “Have you ever had to deal with the City of New York? I could have waited years for those permits. It’s an insane decision and I’m going to go through the appeal process. Why would he think any differently if it was two days or six months? I’ll appeal it and we’ll go from there.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.