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.

Feb 25, 2018
5Pointz Graffiti Artists Win $6.7 Million From Developer Who Destroyed Their Work

Photo by Patxi Moraleda/ via Flickr

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.

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Photo by Andrew Durso/ via Flickr
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Photo by Bryan Pocius/ via Flickr
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Photo by Andrew Durso/ via Flickr

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.

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New York’s graffiti iconic spot ‘5Pointz’ stands defaced with white paint covering most of the artwork, after the building was painted white on November 19, 2013. 5Pointz, a renowned heaven for urban graffiti artists, is set to be demolished by the end of the year to make way for luxury apartments. (Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)

“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.”

Feb 25, 2018