A U.S. Appeals Court in Queens upheld a 2018 ruling against developer Jerry Wolkoff on Thursday, approving a $6.75 million award for 21 graffiti artists whose art he whitewashed at the former street art mecca of 5Pointz.
Judge Barrington Parker affirmed the finding that Wolkoff’s actions violated the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, which protects artworks which has gained “recognized stature.”
“The temporary nature of the art is not a bar to recognized stature,” Barrington wrote in a 32-page decision, pointing to the cultural importance of street artists like Banksy. “Wolkoff did not help his cause when he later reminded the district court that he ‘would make the same decision today.”
The awarded sum consists of $150,000 for each of the 45 works of art that were painted over, according to the Associated Press. Over 10,000 works of art had appeared on the walls of the Long Island City site over the years, after Wolkoff brought in graffiti artist Jonathan Cohen, a.k.a. Meres One, to transform the former factory into an exhibition space in 2002.
In 2013, Wolkoff sought approval to develop a $400 million residential complex at site, including 8,000 units across two towers. The whitewashing incident occurred that November, months before demolition permits were issued.
“The Second Circuit’s landmark decision is a monumental win for the rights of all artists in this country,” the artists’ attorney Eric Baum said in a statement to Artnet News. “The finding is a clear indication these artists’ work is important and should be respected.”