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5Pointz Artists to Get Their $6.75 Million Award, As U.S. Supreme Court Ignores Developer’s Appeal

Photo: George Burles

Oct. 7, 2020 By Christian Murray

It’s time to pay up.

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal from a New York developer who had been ordered to pay $6.75 million to 21 aerosol artists in 2018 for destroying their work that was on the famous 5Pointz warehouse.

The decision ends a long saga between the artists and G & M Realty, which argued that the company was not liable for destroying the aerosol artwork since it was on their building that has since been demolished.

The dispute began soon after Jerry Wolkoff, the owner of G & M who died in July, announced in 2012 that he planned to flatten the 5Pointz warehouse to build two luxury rental towers. The announcement led to heated protests by hundreds of aerosol artists and their supporters who had turned 5Pointz into a major New York destination.

The day after 5Pointz was whitewashed in November 2013 Photo: Queens Post

The artists filed suit in Brooklyn federal court in the summer of 2013 to stop him from demolishing the building, alleging that Wolkoff would violate their rights under the Visual Artists Rights Act. The 1990 law aimed to protect public art of “recognized stature” even if it is on someone else’s property.

However, in November 2013 Wolkoff hired painters to whitewash the artwork in the middle of night to put the dispute to an end. He banned the artists from the site and refused to allow them to recover any work that could be removed, according to court records.

Wolkoff maintained that the works were temporary and not protected by law, and that he had the right to do as he wished on his property. The warehouse was demolished in 2014 and two residential towers have gone up on the site that are almost complete.

A federal jury ruled in favor of the artists in November 2017, and found that Wolkoff had “willfully” disregarded his requirement under the VARA. He was required to provide the artists with “90 days notice before destroying their work.

The day after 5Pointz was whitewashed in November 2013 Photo: Queens Post

U.S. District Judge Frederic Block then made the $6.7 million award in 2018 and said in his decision that the sudden destruction of the artwork was an act of “revenge for the nerve of the plaintiffs to sue to attempt to prevent the destruction of their art.”

The award was based on $150,000 for each of the 45 works that were destroyed.

The case was then heard by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals that approved the 2018 decision earlier this year.

Appeals Court Judge Barrington Parker agreed that Wolkoff’s decision to erase the artwork was in violation of the Visual Artists Rights Act, which is a part of federal copyright law.

“We see nothing in VARA that excludes temporary artwork from attaining recognized stature,” Parker wrote in the decision.

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15 Comments

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Ishvantharantham m.

It’s the law. The issue is that he fell out of compliance with VARA by whitewashing the tags, and then he couldn’t prove that the “works of art” weren’t just a meaningless tags that held no value. In other words, he tried to overturn the law via courts by arguing that law was unconstitutional, and he lost. Reality is – he went about destroying the artwork in an arrogant way (didn’t help his image), plus the courts in NY are undoubtedly on the more liberal side.

Now, obviously, the law is stupid in the first place (clearly favors any artists over the rights of the owners), so don’t be surprised when the wealthy will migrate towards the states where their ownership rights are better protected and enforced.

Just goes to show what happens when bleeding-heart feel-good liberals pass well-meaning policy that backfires and causes unintended consequences. The left can gloat all you want, but to an outsider it seems like Wolkoff got punished by letting squatters vandalize his building and lost the right to exercise his ownership privileges.

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No good deed goes unpunished

No sane landlord will ever let their property be used for similar purposes by “artists” ever again.

Be nice to people, they screw you up the pooper.

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Don’t be nice to anyone in NYC

guys were nice to give kids a place to tag for decades, then the punks stab them in the back. moral of the story….

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LIC Direct

Wolkoff screwed up – over one evening everything was erased and painted over. The urban art was a destination spot for people from all over the world who would come to see it and it was an anchor for MOMA PS-1. Total arrogance on Wolkoff’s part — he should have preserved the fascade of the building as a work of art, preserved some if not all of the Urban Graffiti, saved and placed them through his properties like the pieces of the Berlin wall.

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John Lynch

If it was such an “Urban Art Destination” why didn’t those “Urban Artists” fork over some dough and buy the place? It was his private property to do as he wished, arrogance had nothing to do with it. Terrible decision by both the lower court and the SCOTUS.

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Sammy

John Lynch- Private property does not give anyone free reign. Read the decision it’s on line. A mans word is still stands for something. You’re obviously a person who has been trained to believe a particular person or groups private property is more important than another person or group, you deemed less worthy. Go read the decision you’re so off the topic of the lawsuit you’re embarrassing yourself

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Sammy

John – You’re speechless and obviously uninformed. Go read an article on the case. The case has little to do with “tagging”.

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ABoondy

the developer wont even flinch. they’ll easily recover the losses by increasing prices. lol

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What's wrong with Trump and other wealthy real estate developer elites?

They shouldn’t be allowed to run their business? You liberals are all the same.

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Ishvantharantam V.

Thing is, prices in NYC are not on the same crazy upward trajectory as they used to pre-Covid. You used to be able to pass everything over to tenants, but with low demand since everyone moved out and all the building supply, owners are likely to “eat” the penalty.

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Anonymous

Wolkoff should’ve torched the dump. On the other hand it is a nice payback for making us look at that eyesore for all those years.

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