5Pointz trial will venture into uncharted legal territory: judge

Group of artists is suing developer Jerry Wolkoff for destroying graffiti on his LIC building

The whitewashed graffiti at 45-56 Davis Street, David and Jerry Wolkoff
The whitewashed graffiti at 45-56 Davis Street, David and Jerry Wolkoff

Is graffiti an art — and does it need to be protected by the federal law?

That’s the question at the heart of a trial that will determine whether developer Jerry Wolkoff has to pay damages to taggers whose works he destroyed at his 5Pointz site in Long Island City.

This week, the trial in Brooklyn that will consider whether around 20 artists have a claim against the developer, who demolished his buildings and the art that covered them in 2013 to make way for residential towers. The artists are seeking financial damages under the Visual Artists Rights Act, which is used to protect art on private property that has “recognized stature,” the New York Times reported.

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“We’re working with a clean slate,” Judge Frederic Block said of the case, according to the Times, indicating the case will move into new legal ground.

In the early 1990s, Wolkoff, of G&M Realty, began allowing taggers to graffiti his buildings at 45-46 Davis Street in Long Island City. However, in 2013, he whitewashed the buildings overnight.

He is planning a $400 million residential complex at the site that includes 8,000 units spread across two towers.

At the trial, a lawyer for the artists argued their art was of “recognized stature” and that they had not been given the appropriate 90 days of notice. Wolkoff’s attorney, however, claimed the artists always knew the graffiti would be destroyed. [NYT]Miriam Hall