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New York - Judge Awards Graffiti Artists $6.7M After Works Destroyed

Published on: February 12, 2018 06:30 PM
By: AP
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New York - A judge awarded $6.7 million Monday to graffiti artists who sued after dozens of spray paintings were destroyed on the walls of dilapidated warehouse buildings torn down to make room for high-rise luxury residences.

U.S. District Judge Frederic Block in Brooklyn said 45 of the 49 paintings were recognized works of art “wrongfully and willfully destroyed” by a remorseless landlord.

Twenty-one aerosol artists had sued the owner of a Long Island City, Queens, site known as 5Pointz under the Visual Rights Act, a 1990 federal law that protects artists’ rights even if someone else owns the physical artwork. Their graffiti was painted over in 2013, and the buildings were torn down a year later.

Before they vanished, the graffiti artworks became a tourist attraction, drawing thousands of spectators daily and forming a backdrop to the 2013 movie, “Now You See Me,” and a site for an Usher tour, the judge noted.

All the while, the crime-ridden neighborhood gradually improved and it became the “world’s largest collection of quality outdoor aerosol art,” though a system set up by the artists meant some paintings were temporary while others were given permanent status, Block wrote.

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The ruling followed a three-week trial in November, when Block said the “respectful, articulate and credible” artists testified about “striking technical and artistic mastery and vision worthy of display in prominent museums if not on the walls of 5Pointz.”

He noted one artist came from London, another from rural West Virginia, while others were products of prestigious art schools. Some were self-taught.

He said he was impressed with the breadth of the artists’ works and how many works “spoke to the social issues of our times.”

Jerry Wolkoff, who owned the buildings, had conceded he allowed the spray-paint artists to use the buildings as a canvas for decades but said they always knew they would be torn down someday. His lawyer, David Ebert, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

The artists had once hoped to buy the properties, before their value soared to over $200 million.

Block said he hoped the award would give teeth to a federal law that should have kept Wolkoff from demolishing them for at least 10 months, when he had all his permits.

Artists then could have easily rescued some paintings from siding, plywood or sheet-rock before the rollers, spray machines and buckets of white paint arrived.

“Wolkoff has been singularly unrepentant. He was given multiple opportunities to admit the whitewashing was a mistake, show remorse, or suggest he would do things differently if he had another chance,” Block said.

“Wolkoff could care less. As he callously testified,” the judge said. “The sloppy, half-hearted nature of the whitewashing left the works easily visible under thin layers of cheap, white paint, reminding the plaintiffs on a daily basis what had happened. The mutilated works were visible by millions of people on the passing 7 train.”



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Read Comments (17)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Feb 12, 2018 at 06:37 PM lipa21 Says:

the artist s/b charged for trespassing and destroyng the original walls of the building

2

 Feb 12, 2018 at 06:45 PM Anonymous Says:

The sick world we live in .Wnder what the judge would have ruled ,had the property been his!!!!

3

 Feb 12, 2018 at 06:51 PM StevenWright Says:

Welcome to Sodom.

4

 Feb 12, 2018 at 07:24 PM AmYisroel Says:

What an idiotic judge

5

 Feb 12, 2018 at 07:34 PM The guy should be in prison Says:

Crazy liberals!

6

 Feb 12, 2018 at 07:37 PM MrSmith Says:

They should hang this Judge in Times Square together with those Grafitti Vandals

7

 Feb 12, 2018 at 09:29 PM Anonymous Says:

Most probably a Hussain Obama judge.

8

 Feb 12, 2018 at 08:37 PM rachelw Says:

Only in America, kids, only in America!

9

 Feb 12, 2018 at 09:37 PM PaulinSaudi Says:

Certainly a strange case.

10

 Feb 12, 2018 at 09:37 PM savtat Says:

Artists often revive "bad" neighborhoods. That has happened in the West Village, and Williamsburg, and Bed Sty....They bring something beautiful that the landowners benefit from. The landlord could have shown some respect and worked something out with them. They helped his land become much more valuable. And, it seems from the article that they had his permission. Next time, the artists should make the landlord sign an agreement!!!

11

 Feb 12, 2018 at 09:58 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #10  
savtat Says:

Artists often revive "bad" neighborhoods. That has happened in the West Village, and Williamsburg, and Bed Sty....They bring something beautiful that the landowners benefit from. The landlord could have shown some respect and worked something out with them. They helped his land become much more valuable. And, it seems from the article that they had his permission. Next time, the artists should make the landlord sign an agreement!!!

"Next time, the artists should make the landlord sign an agreement!!! ”

Why? The just made over 6 million without doing that.

12

 Feb 12, 2018 at 10:13 PM Zzzzz Says:

Sick. Liberal judge,

13

 Feb 12, 2018 at 11:44 PM Liepa Says:

Mr.Block, I can't call you judge because isn't a judge supposed to be wise.

Alas, NOT !!!

14

 Feb 13, 2018 at 01:13 AM hernoor Says:

Reply to #10  
savtat Says:

Artists often revive "bad" neighborhoods. That has happened in the West Village, and Williamsburg, and Bed Sty....They bring something beautiful that the landowners benefit from. The landlord could have shown some respect and worked something out with them. They helped his land become much more valuable. And, it seems from the article that they had his permission. Next time, the artists should make the landlord sign an agreement!!!

Excuse me! The owner owes these trespassers NOTHING and needs to make no deals with them! This judge renders judgements that would be perfect in Sodom or the time before the time before the mabul.

15

 Feb 13, 2018 at 09:26 AM georgeg Says:

Strange remarks in these comments, most ignoring (or never bothered to read) the sentence:

> Jerry Wolkoff, who owned the buildings, had conceded he allowed the spray-paint artists to use the buildings as a canvas for decades

In any case, "Visual Rights Act" is 17 U.S. Code section 106.

However, there is also section 113 (d) which voids the "Visual Rights Act" in a case where the owner of the building needs it removed. The only caveat is that the owner of building must notify the author of the impending situation to allow the author up to 90 days to remove it .So I would imagine the legality of this verdict depends on whether or not the owner notified the artist in writing 90 days before the destruction.

16

 Feb 13, 2018 at 10:19 AM MyThreeCents Says:

Ridiculous! The artists were trespassing. They should be sued

17

 Feb 13, 2018 at 12:09 PM yamsar Says:

Reply to #10  
savtat Says:

Artists often revive "bad" neighborhoods. That has happened in the West Village, and Williamsburg, and Bed Sty....They bring something beautiful that the landowners benefit from. The landlord could have shown some respect and worked something out with them. They helped his land become much more valuable. And, it seems from the article that they had his permission. Next time, the artists should make the landlord sign an agreement!!!

Did you take some time to read perfidy by Ben Hecht, or do you choose to continue to live in the world of alternative facts?

18

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