Graffiti artists win $6.7 million from a developer who destroyed their work
He painted over the iconic graffiti before tearing it down to make room for luxury apartments.
In a ruling unlike ever before, a judge has decided that a property developer owes a group of graffiti artists for destroying their work. Jerry Wolkoff has to pay a colossal sum of $6.7 million, the maximum amount of damages possible, to the collective of painters over the destruction of 45 murals.
Wolkoff bought the building, that would become known as 5Pointz, in the early 70s. He tried leasing the lofts to companies but decided to lease to artists instead in the 90s. Over the decades, taggers began painting murals along the exterior of the building, which became an attraction for travelers and an oasis for graffiti artists. In 2013, Wolkoff announced he would be demolishing the building to make condos, and the announcement was not taken well.
Artists began protesting, largely through new tags like “ART MURDER” splayed across the building. It prompted Wolkoff to have the walls painted over before tearing the building down, a mistake that will now cost him millions.
Judge Frederic Block activated the rarely seen Visual Artist Rights Act (or VARA for short) to punish Wolkoff. VARA is more often seen in cases of intellectual theft, but can also apply in instances of defacement or destruction. Because Wolkoff had the murals painted over before the artists could see if their work qualified for recognition status, Judge Block described the act as ‘insolence,’ ruling Wolkoff had desecrated the work. If the property developer had simply let the murals fall with the building, he wouldn’t have had to pay $150,000 for each work destroyed.
“5Pointz was a prominent tourist attraction,” wrote Judge Block in his decision, “the public would undoubtedly have thronged to say its goodbyes during those 10 months and gaze at the formidable works of aerosol art for the last time. It would have been a wonderful tribute for the artists that they richly deserved.”