A federal court jury in Brooklyn has handed a preliminary victory to a group of graffiti and aerosol artists in a closely watched case that pitted the rights of street artists against those of a property developer.
The six-person jury found that real estate developer Gerald Wolkoff and his related companies broke the law when, in 2014, he whitewashed the 5Pointz graffiti mecca in Long Island City in the middle of the night. However, the jury decision will serve only as a recommendation to the case’s presiding judge, Frederick Block, who has yet to hand down a final verdict and assess whether any damages must be paid.
Eric Baum, the attorney representing the 5Pointz artists, said he and the artists are “ecstatic” about the decision. “The jury found the age-old saying ‘actions have consequences’ rings true. The strong message sent in this case is that art which is protected by federal law should be cherished and not destroyed or mutilated,” Baum told artnet News. “The federal law applied in this case protects the moral rights and integrity of the artists and the court will now use the jury’s determination in making a final decision on all issues.”
Jonathan Cohen, a street artist known as Meres One, oversaw all aspects of 5Pointz for more than a decade, including giving artists permission to paint at the site. He told artnet News via email: “5Pointz and my 11 years of volunteer work there we [sic] dedicated to an art form I love and live. I stood up for the culture from day one, and standing up in court for the artwork myself and fellow artists created was essential in getting closure.”
Even though Wolkoff made it clear in the early 1990s that he would only allow the graffiti artists to paint on the building temporarily, the group was outraged at the sudden destruction of their work. They filed suit in 2014, claiming that their rights had been violated under the Visual Artists Rights Act. Read more