On Monday, a federal judge ruled that the owner of the 5Pointz warehouse complex owes a group of 21 graffiti artists $6.7 million after their artworks were destroyed when the set of buildings was whitewashed before being demolished to make way for new luxury condominiums. The award occurred after a jury ruled in favor of the artists in November.
US District Court Judge Frederic Block confirmed the award on Monday, asserting that Jerry Wolkoff, the owner of the 5Pointz complex located in Queens, New York, violated the artists’ rights based on federal law.
The law that was the focus of the decision, the Visual Artists Rights Acts, provides legal protections to artists based on specific requirements, even if the artists do not own the work.
5Pointz became a hotspot for street-art, drawing in both visitors and artists from across the globe. Wolkoff had permitted artists to paint murals and graffiti on the buildings, which he has owned since 2002.
Over time, the complex became a tourist destination and cultural landmark, even appearing in a range of guidebooks dedicated to the city.
On November 19, 2013, the artwork was painted over as Wolkoff made plans to convert the area into luxury condominiums. He claimed that decision was made to ensure the art wasn’t ruined when the buildings were demolished, based on court documents, as reported by CNN.
The artists stated that Wolkoff never informed them of his intentions to paint over the art, preventing them from having an opportunity to remove or otherwise preserve their work. They alleged that Wolkoff’s actions were “gratuitous, willful, and malicious.”
The judge took no issue with Wolkoff’s intentions to tear the buildings down, focusing instead on the decision to paint over the artwork without providing proper notice to the artists.
“The shame of it all is that since 5Pointz was a prominent tourist attraction the public would undoubtedly have thronged to say its goodbyes… and gaze at the formidable works of aerosol art for the last time,” Block wrote. “I would have been a wonderful tribute for the artists that they richly deserved.”
Eric Baum, the attorney representing the artists, called the decision “a triumph for artists all around the country.”
Baum stated, “The cultural significance of 5Pointz and the value of the aerosol art created by the 21 plaintiffs has been recognized as fine art. It is now clear that the federal law protects the dignity of the artist and ensures that their artwork is treated respectfully.”