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New York graffiti complex headed for demolition

A judge rules that court cannot prevent developers from tearing down warehouses that serve as a massive canvas for street artists

“I love the work and it’s going to tear my heart out to see it torn down, but as a judge I have to apply the law,” said the Brooklyn federal court judge Frederic Block

Developers are a step closer to tearing down the Long Island graffiti complex 5Pointz and replacing it with $400m luxury flats, after a judge ruled on 12 November that he could not grant a preliminary injunction to prevent the new construction and that a temporary restraining order granted in an earlier hearing should be lifted. “I love the work and it’s going to tear my heart out to see it torn down, but as a judge I have to apply the law,” said the Brooklyn federal court judge Frederic Block.

A group of 17 artists filed a lawsuit on 10 October saying that their murals, which have been painted with the permission of the owner of 5Pointz since 1993, were protected under the Visual Artists Rights Act (Vara) and should not be demolished along with the warehouses.

Jeannine Chanes, the lawyer representing the artists, says they are “disappointed”, but that they are waiting for the formal written decision from the judge before deciding whether to appeal. “We can't really do anything until we know the basis for the judge’s ruling,” she says, adding that the decision was only for the preliminary injunction and that the “lawsuit will go forward”.

The artists are also pursuing the option of reapplying for landmark status from the city’s Landmarks Preservation Committee; an application in August was rejected. The decision to designate the buildings a landmark would fall to New York’s next mayor, Bill de Blasio, although a similar appeal to outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg failed because none of the murals meets the 30-year minimum for protection.

If it moves forward, the legal case has the potential to fundamentally change the way street art is viewed as a temporary and transient medium. The artists argue that because most of the murals at 5Pointz have been up for more than a decade, they are in fact permanent. They also said that the murals have received “wide public acclaim” and therefore are of “recognised stature”—one of the requirements of Vara. However, the site’s owner, Gerald Wolkoff of G&M Realty, said that because the artists occasionally whitewashed their works, the murals lack stature. Wolkoff also argued that the murals were not protected by Vara as they amount to a “hodgepodge” of images rather than a single work of art, and that the artists were actually trying to preserve a series of buildings.

Update, 19 November 2013: The owners of 5Pointz have whitewashed the graffiti complex overnight, wiping clean at least 350 works of art. Jeannine Chanes, the lawyer representing the artists, called the move "intentional art homicide". The buildings are due to be demolished early next year. The owner Gerald Wolkoff told the Wall Street Journal: "This is why I did it: it was torture for them and for me. They couldn’t paint anymore and they loved to paint. Let me just get it over with and as I knock it down they’re not watching their piece of art going down."

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Comments

18 Nov 13
19:11 CET

LOUIS TORRES, NEW YORK

Graffiti ought not protected by the the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) because it is not 'art' by any objective definition of the term.

18 Nov 13
19:11 CET

J. UNRUH, NEW YORK

It's not mentioned by the article, but I wonder why (or if) the artists are not bringing the lawsuit under the N.Y. Artists Authorship Rights law. It might be a stretch, but if the artists believe that their reputations are injured by the destruction, it might be applicable.

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