In June, nine artists from 5Pointz, the collective based out of the Long Island City warehouse once hailed as a global graffiti mecca, announced their lawsuit against the building's landlord, Jerry Wolkoff, for whitewashing years of artwork overnight, way back in November 2013. Known as TOOFLY (Maria Castillo), Jimmy C (James Cochran), Ishmael (Luis Gomez), FCEE (Bienbenido Guerra), Patch Whiskey (Richard Miller), Semor (Kai Niederhausen), PANIC (Rodney Rodriguez), Carlo Nieva, and Kenji Takabayash the artists are seeking cash damages for the “devastating losses” caused by the sudden destruction of their murals. According to the complaint, Wolkoff and G&M Realty (the developers building luxury condos at the street art landmark) could have allowed them the opportunity to preserve their art, and in not doing so denied the artists potential income.
What makes the lawsuit such a bold and timely move is that historically, New York City has been a haven for artists. A case of this ilk wouldn’t have been likely in a former, slightly more-dilapidated New York. But today's New York is giving way to a high-end consumer market catered to an artistic elite, one that capitalizes on the grassroots art culture it simultaneously drives out. Case in point: Wolkoff tried (but failed) to copyright the name “5Pointz” to use on the forthcoming development.
Back in 2013, 5Pointz artists and members filed a lawsuit to stop the impending demolition, but were denied by a Brooklyn Federal Judge. According to the New York Daily News, "Brooklyn Federal Judge Frederic Block noted in his ruling that they could be owed damages if their graffiti works qualified for 'recognized stature,'" protecting them under the U.S. Visual Artists Rights Acts.
In the recent complaint, the 5Pointz artists seek to convey the message that their type of art is worth preserving, and its outcome will be a telling gesture of how much the city values its remaining working artists.