A New York property developer has been court ordered to pay $6.75 million in damages to 21 street artists whose work was destroyed to make way for luxury apartments. The warehouse building in Queens, named 5Pointz, was a well-known graffiti haven where – The Washington Post reports – aerosol artists would “travel from around the world to use its walls as canvases – legally”.
For a number of years, the building’s owner Gerald Wolkoff had rented the building to artists and allowed them to graffiti and paint on the walls. It had become a cultural landmark, attracting tourists and artists alike, and was frequently used a backdrop for films and music videos.
Then in 2013 Wolkoff made plans to have the property torn down to be replaced with a luxury residential block. The artists launched a petition to stop the building being knocked down, under the Visual Artists Rights Act which protects “works of recognised stature” but Wolkoff covered the artworks in white paint before a court decision was reached. The building was destroyed a year later.
In 2015 a group of the 5Pointz artists sued the developer for damages caused by the destruction of their artwork and loss of potential income from its preservation. In November 2017, a jury ruled in favour of the artists, saying their work should be protected under the Visual Artists Rights Act and noting it was the country’s “largest collection of exterior aerosol art”. This week the judge ordered the building owner to pay $150,000 for each of the 45 works destroyed, to its 21 artists, amounting to $6.75 million. According to The Washington Post this case marked the first time a court had been asked to determine whether graffiti should be considered art protected under federal law.
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