Nearly five years after painting over the legendary graffiti mecca 5 Pointz in Queens, real estate developers are appealing a hefty judgment ordering them to pay the artists who decorated the building. Developer David Wolkoff told the Commercial Observer, "We didn’t feel the decision"—a $6.7 million one—"was the correct one. The nature of graffiti in itself is to paint over itself constantly, and [the artists] made reference to that and it’s what happened over the 27 odd years."
Wolkoff and his father, Gerald Wolkoff, who bought the building in 1971 for $1.1 million, eventually razed the sprawling warehouse to make way for luxury condos with unironic graffiti branding. However, the buffing of 5 Pointz, which was a destination for graffiti artists and tourists alike, occurred suddenly, as the artists were trying to fight the development in court.
The artists sued, claiming that the Visual Artists Rights Act had been violated. Though the Wolkoffs argued, among other things, that graffiti at 5 Pointz had been changing all the time, in November 2017, a jury found that the Wolkoffs broke the law when they whitewashed the walls.
This past February, Judge Frederic Block said that the Wolkoffs would have to pay $6.7 million to the artists in the suit, at $150,000 per work of art. Commercial Observer quoted Block's decision:
“If not for Wolkoff’s insolence, these damages would not have been assessed,” Block said in his decision. “If he did not destroy 5Pointz until he received his permits and demolished it 10 months later, the Court would not have found that he had acted willfully.
“The whitewash did not end the conflict in one go; the effects lingered for almost a year,” Block said. “The sloppy, half-hearted nature of the whitewashing left the works easily visible under thin layers of cheap, white paint, reminding the plaintiffs on a daily basis what had happened.”
According to Commercial Observer, "the Wolkoffs' lawyer Meir Feder argued that he did not 'willfully' violate the VARA act and the court 'abused its discretion' with the judgment. 'The district court’s repeated expressions of its affinity for the works at issue… and its statements that could be viewed as expressing hostility to the defendants, could suggest to a reasonable observer that the court’s impartiality is in question,' Feder said in the appeal."
One of the artists in the suit, Carlos Games, told the NY Times in February, "I think going into this, [the Wolkoffs] didn’t realize how organized we were. They forget that these aren’t little kids. These ‘kids’ are 47 years old. They run businesses, they have businesses."