2018-02-21 / Front Page

5 Pointz Owners To Appeal Judge’s Decision

By Liz Goff
The owner of the former 5 Pointz warehouse complex said he will appeal a decision by Federal Judge Frederic Block who last week awarded $6.75 million to 21 graffiti artists whose rights, the judge ruled, were violated when the property owner whitewashed their artwork in November 2013.

Owner Jerry Wolkoff said the February 12th ruling by Block “makes no sense,” and that he hopes the appeals court will see “how ridiculous this whole thing is.”

The ruling was in response to an action filed by the graffiti artists in Brooklyn Federal Court seeking punitive damages from Wolkoff, who they claim destroyed their artwork in a “disgracefully crude, unprofessional manner” when he whitewashed the Long Island City warehouse complex.

The artists claimed in the action that they had no prior notice of Wolkoff’s plan to whitewash the complex, and so were unable to remove and preserve their work.

The artists sought compensation for their lost work under the federal Visual Artists Rights Act and Copyright Law (VASA) of 1990, which protects the work of artists from being demolished if it has “recognized nature.”

A group of the graffiti artists filed for a federal injunction in the fall of 2013 seeking to halt demolition of the warehouse complex, saying the buildings had “recognized nature” and were therefore protected under VASA.

At a hearing on November 6, 2013, Block flatly stated that the building owner’s property rights won over the artists’ rights in the hotly contested case. “I can’t grant the injunction,” Block said.

Attorneys who filed the federal action for the graffiti artists argued the building owners had violated VASA, which states that protected artwork cannot be altered, modified, demolished or destroyed without the artists’ permission. The federal action was believed to be the first in the nation’s history to be filed by graffiti artists seeking legal action to protect their artwork.

“I love the work and it’s going to tear my heart out to see it torn down, but as a judge I have to apply the law,” Block said in his ruling denying the injunction. “The building, unfortunately, is going to have to come down.” Block said, adding that the owners had the right to build on their property.

The Wolkoffs said in 2014 that they believed the lawsuit was “without merit.” David Wolkoff described how the artists “constantly painted over people’s work” over the two decades the owners allowed the artists to use the buildings as their canvas. “That’s what (graffiti) artists do,” David Wolkoff said. “That’s the true nature of this specific type of art, to constantly paint over it.”

The Wolkoffs stressed that it was common knowledge the buildings were going to be demolished to make way for development of two mixed-use towers at the site.

The Wolkoff family, who has owned the property on Davis Street in Long Island City for 40-plus years, obtained unanimous approval from the City Council in May 2013 to demolish the maze of warehouses to make way for the two towers that would include, among other things, 12,000 -square-feet of artist studios and gallery space for use by the graffiti artists. The buildings were demolished in the summer of 2014..

The Wolkoffs argued in prior court action that the graffiti on the 5 Pointz building did not meet the level of art protected under VASA. The owners said the many prior actions launched by the artists to stop demolition of the buildings were a clear indication that they knew the 5 Pointz complex was going to come down.

In his decision, Block ruled that 45 of the graffiti artworks in question were protected under VASA and assessed damages for each at $150,000. Block said Jerry Wolkoff’s decision to paint over the artwork was the leading factor in his decision to award damages. “If he did not destroy 5 Pointz until he received his permits and demolished it 10 months later, the court would not have found that he had acted willfully,” Block said.

It is unclear when Wolkoff will file the appeal.








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