New York Developer Needs to Compensate US$6.7m for Destroying Graffiti Artworks at 5Pointz

Twenty-one graffiti artists sued the owner of 5Pointz, an international street-art mecca in New York, for destroying their works on the buildings to make room for luxury apartments. They will be awarded US$6.7 million following the ruling from a federal judge on Monday.

5Pointz, a warehouse complex in the Long Island City section of Queens, had been an international graffiti mecca since the 1990s. It evolved into a cultural landmark in New York City which attracted visitors and artists from around the world.  

To make way for luxury condominiums, Jerry Wolkoff, the real estate developer who owned 5Pointz, whitewashed the buildings overnight in November 2013 without prior warning, destroying the graffiti artworks. The buildings were torn down a year later.

Twenty-one graffiti artists filed a lawsuit against the developer for violating the artist's right under the Visual Artist Rights Act, which protects artwork that meets "recognized stature", whether owned by the artist or not.

Following a three-week trial in November, Judge Frederic Block ruled on Monday that Wolkoff must pay US$6.7 million to a group of 21 graffiti artist for whitewashing the artworks without prior notice or regard for the artists' ability to preserve their work. Block awarded the maximum amount US$150,000 per piece of damages available under the statute.

The judge also wrote that if Wolkoff had awaited his permits and demolished it 10 months later, the damages would not have been assessed.

“Since 5Pointz was a prominent tourist attraction 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,” according to the court documents.