The 7 train subway line that connects Flushing, Queens with
Times Square, Manhattan in New York City is known for several special
characteristics: it is nicknamed “International Express” because it travels
through several ethnic neighborhoods in Queens, it stops at Citi Field (home of
the NY Mets) and the United States Tennis Association (where the US Open is
played), and it is one of the few elevated subway lines in operation in
NYC. This Kat rides the 7 train daily
from Queens to Grand Central Station and she has always been fascinated with
the view from the train windows – especially as is passes through Long Island
City, where riders are greeted by a spectacular view of the skyline of
Manhattan and a view of nearly three full sides of a warehouse complex known as
What makes 5Pointz worthy of note is that almost every inch of the buildings that make up the complex is covered by intricately painted graffiti art. I’ve seen 5Pointz countless times during my commute and still notice something different every time – in part because there are so many works of art to look at and in part because new works are added on a regular basis. 5 Pointz is truly an homage to the genre of graffiti art.
Unfortunately, the owner of the 5Pointz property plans to tear it down and redevelop the land to accommodate luxury high rise towers, retail space, low income housing (a requirement of the City Council), and art studio space. The property owner, an individual named Gerald Wolkoff, has also promised to dedicate some exterior walls of the new properties for graffiti. However, having fresh space on which to create new art does not satisfy the artists who currently have works displayed at 5Pointz. In response to Wolkoff’s announced plans, a collective of graffiti artists, including the 5Pointz “curator”, Jonathan Cohen (known as “Meres One”), filed a lawsuit against Wolkoff in the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York seeking an injunction preventing the destruction of the buildings.
Graffiti (also known as aerosol art or street art) has traditionally had the reputation of being limited to scrawled signatures or messages along the lines of “I was here.” And even as the genre developed to include complex designs, it has remained a form of art that is usually created illicitly without the permission or knowledge of the property owner on which the graffiti is painted. Illicit graffiti could be, and often is, painted over or removed by the property owner. The artists have no right to object. But the graffiti painted at 5Pointz is not typical graffiti art. The artists explain that Wolkoff gave them permission to paint the 5Pointz site – indeed, Wolkoff even appointed curators to select the best artists to work at the site. In addition, they claim, because Wolkoff granted permission, they hold moral rights in their works and Wolkoff may not destroy their work without their permission. In making this claim, the artists are seeking to leverage the limited moral rights granted to artists through a nearly forgotten bit of federal legislation called the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (“VARA”).
|5Pointz as viewed from the 7 train|
on this Kat's ride home last night.
An artist’s right applies even in instances where the work of visual art “has been incorporated in or made a part of a building in such a way that removing the work from the building will cause the destruction, distortion, mutilation, or other modification of the work” unless the artist and the owner of the building have signed a written instrument that permits the work to be destroyed, distorted, mutilated, or otherwise modified, by reason of its removal.
Since approximately 1993, Wolkoff has permitted aerosol artists to use the interior and exterior walls of 5Pointz for works of visual art. […] In or around 2002, Wolkoff and Cohen agreed that Cohen would take over as the volunteer curator/registrar/director/manager of the aerosol art program at 5Pointz. Wolkoff gave Cohen keys to 5Pointz and provided several secure spaces in 5Pointz for Cohen to use as an office and to store cans of spray paint, ladders and other painting supplies for Cohen and other artists. Wolkoff gave Cohen full authority to determine what works of visual art could be painted on 5Pointz, with three restrictions: a) the works of visual art were not to be political; b) they were to contain nothing religious; and c) no pornography was allowed. Wolkoff directed Cohen to have works of visual art painted on every 5Pointz building. Wolkoff did not request or require that title to the works of visual art be transferred to him. Each individual artist, or group of artists, retained all copyrights to his, her or their works of visual art. […] Since 2002 the works of visual art on 5Pointz have become one of the foremost collections of aerosol art in the United States, and have resulted in 5Pointz being referred to as world’s [sic] “Graffiti Mecca.”In addition, the Complaint states that no plaintiff artist has “executed or signed a written instrument that specifies that installation of [the artist’s work] on or at 5Pointz may subject that work of visual art to destruction, distortion, mutilation, or other modification, by reason of its removal.”
|Merpelsy plans to tag a|
building in NYC with her