Flip The Script: Graffiti Writers Are Awarded Millions After Their Works Were Painted Over

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In a landmark ruling, a federal judge in Brooklyn, New York has awarded a $6.7 million judgment on Monday (February 12) to 21 graffiti artists whose work was destroyed in 2013 at the 5Pointz complex in Long Island City, Queens. The financial settlement comes after a trial concluded in November that decided Jerry Wolkoff, a real estate developer who owned 5Pointz, broke the law when he had workers whitewash dozens of murals at the complex.

During the trial, Wolkoff’s legal team argued that the buildings were his to do with as he wanted. However, the jury found that he violated the Visual Artists Rights Act (or V.A.R.A.) The law is in place to protect public art of “recognized stature” even if it’s on someone else’s property. Frederic Block, the judge at trial, originally altered the verdict at the last minute to make it a recommendation, but on Monday decided instead to uphold the jury’s decision. His ruling awarded the artists the maximum amount of damages possible because 45 of the dozens of painted-over murals had enough artistic stature to merit protection.

Developers Who Destroyed A Graffiti Landmark Aim To Use Its Heritage In Their Redesign

Eric Baum, a lawyer for the artists, told the New York Times the judgment was a victory for artists “all around the country.” “The clear message is that art protected by federal law must be cherished and not destroyed,” he said. “With this win, the spirit of 5Pointz becomes a legacy for generations of artists to come.”

Curated by writer Meres One (aka Jonathan Cohen), 5Pointz is a five-story warehouse building that was constructed in 1892 and welcomed graffiti artists from across the world. Stay High 149, Tracy 168, and Cope2 were just a few of the iconic artists whose work adorned the space. In 2013, after the real estate owner of 40 years motioned to sell, the New York City Council unanimously approved the plan to build a $400 million, 1,000 unit apartment complex with 210 affordable housing units.

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More recently, the developers responsible for destroying the graffiti landmark are recreating some of the tags and pieces in the new complex’s redesign. G&M Realty and designers Mojo Stumer Associates are using images of the famous art amidst the facility housing a fitness center, swimming pool and lounge.