Art

Street Artists’ $6.75M Legal Victory Over 5Pointz Developer Upheld

The art was initially destroyed in 2013, and the legal battle has raged ever since

5Pointz New York City mural site in 2011
The 5Pointz street art mecca in New York City in 2011.
P.Lindgren/Creative Commons
By Tobias Carroll / February 21, 2020 12:19 pm

In 2013, a piece of New York City’s cultural firmament changed forever. 5Pointz, which had long been home to a number of murals by street artists was whitewashed in advance of a planned development on the site. This was more controversial than you might think: developer Gerald Wolkoff was accused of not having given the artists any time to remove or preserve their work, and the artists soon filed suit. In 2017, they won their case via a jury ruling.

But that wasn’t the end of things; Wolkoff appealed the ruling. And now, a U.S. Appeals Court has weighed in — and its ruling is good news for the artists involved in the case. Artnet News reports that the earlier ruling was upheld, and the decision makes for a fairly overwhelming win for the artists whose work was destroyed.

But Wolkoff was rebuffed on all points in the latest ruling, and the court took the additionally extraordinary step of citing his own lawyers against him. “Wolkoff’s own expert acknowledged that temporary artwork can achieve recognized stature,” according to the decision.

At the heart of the decision is the Visual Artists Rights Act. It argues that artists have the right “to prevent any intentional distortion, mutilation, or other modification of that work which would be prejudicial to his or her honor or reputation, and any intentional distortion, mutilation, or modification of that work is a violation of that right.”

Given that Wolkoff did not have a demolition permit for the building when he began the process of whitewashing, it’s hard to argue with this ruling. Wolkoff did successfully trademark the 5Pointz name and is behind a high-end development on the site with graffiti themes — so he can probably afford the $6.75 million he’ll have to pay under the ruling.

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