5Pointz Painted: Queens Loses a Graffiti Landmark

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

5Pointz Aerosol Art Center painted over by the warehouse's owners Jerry Wolkoff in the early hours on Nov. 19, 2013. 5Pointz Aerosol Art Center painted over by the warehouse's owners Jerry Wolkoff in the early hours on Nov. 19, 2013. (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

For more than 20 years, graffiti artists were free to spray paint the outside walls of a drab warehouse in Long Island City. 5Pointz became an international graffiti landmark, but early Tuesday morning, the building's owner Jerry Wolkoff ordered the warehouse to be whitewashed.

A small crowd gathered across the street from the five-story warehouse Tuesday morning. It included the curators of the 5Pointz Aerosol Art Center, who stared blankly at their once colorful canvas. 

Pacing in the shadows of the elevated train, “galleries” curator Jonathan Cohen searched for the right words to describe what happened to his 20 years of work.

"I just want to say, what happened last night was disgusting," he said.

Shaking his head, the MC in residence at 5Pointz, the rapper known as Dreddy Kruger, said he wished they'd been given notice before the owner decided to paint over the art.

"Its murder overnight," he said. "It's backhanded, it's underhanded."

Building owner Jerry Wolkoff had allowed artists to create spray paint murals on the facade for more than two decades, but had decided to demolish the former warehouse and build two apartment towers. In October, a group of 5Pointz artists sued to keep the building from being demolished, claiming it would destroy valuable works of art. 

"My building . . . has now outlived its usefulness," Wolkoff told WNYC by phone. "It's time, it's an old building."

He said he loves the art and the artists, and that he painted the walls at 2 a.m. to avoid any confrontations.

"It's like a Band-Aid, I just wanted to take one rip off in one time. I felt it was best for them and I. I had tears in my eyes when I painted this morning," Wolkoff said.

That’s little comfort for 5Pointz artist Justin Perez, better known by his graffiti name "Mars." He stopped by the site and tried to find one of his pieces through the white paint, but then gave up. Perez said the worst thing is that 5Pointz was one of the rare places where it was legal to spray paint art.

"This is what separates graffiti from vandalism," he said. "You don’t have to worry about people running around the streets of New York destroying your place, they have a safe haven so they can come here and perform their arts."

But it was only safe until Wolkoff got permits to put up two apartment towers there. He said there will be a 60-foot wall for artists to paint on. Meanwhile, the artists at 5Pointz vowed to continue to fight the demolition in court.

Marie Cecile Figeul, a lead volunteer with 5Pointz, said over 1,500 pieces were destroyed.

Wolkoff hopes to begin taking down the building early next year.



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Comments [29]

ursonate from lowell, ma

What, he couldn't tear down the building without painting over it? He missed the opportunity to sell/giveaway the painted pieces a la berlin wall. Greed is kind of useless.

And now I have absolutely no reason to ride the 7 train when i'm in town.

Nov. 23 2013 11:00 AM
itsallaboutcontext from Valley Stream

Unlike many cities around the world, NY remains in constant flux. The city which I was born in 50's has transformed itself many times over since then. And so too has corporate america. Most of the corporate icons I grew up with are no longer. 20 years is a long run, more so for an art form grounded in vandalism. If you find yourself nostalgic over institutionalized graffiti, you're older than you think. Step aside, and behold the new.

Nov. 21 2013 11:14 AM

In case anybody wants to see how this amazing place looked just 48 hours ago - here are some photos:
Today it looks like a graveyard. The legality of this action might be totally legit, but the loss of art work is irreplaceable. The argument that graffiti is always temporary is somewhat true, but in this case it is the loss of communal space and spirit dedicated to free art.

Nov. 20 2013 07:47 PM
Ghost Of The Splasher

By challenging what the experts term 'street art', our actions have, in turn, uncovered an alliance between the coercive force of the state and the "creative class" of the artist.

Nov. 20 2013 05:25 PM
art525 from Park Slope

AH Penelope it is a shame that the owner didn't have access to your marketing skills before he destroyed the murals. Yes I'm sure he could have made a fortune catering to tour buses and crowds spilling out of PS 1. Unfortunately he will have to make do building a couple of large luxury condo buildings. What a missed oportunity. Yes. Yes he is an idiot isn't he?

Nov. 20 2013 04:16 PM
PRNY from Long Beach, NY

This landlord was generous with his space for a long time. Certainly there are many images out there of the graffiti art on this building. If the artists did not document their work well that was foolish. The whitewash was painful but the landlord had to end it so he can move on. I have discovered in my own life when things don't go the way I hope I try to find meaning in that change. For the artists who's work was covered up I hope you move positively in a new direction. I thank you for for making 5pointz special. I still miss the Keith Haring murals that filled NYC. Artists can not control change when the artist does not own the space.

Nov. 20 2013 03:49 PM
Penelope Katsaras from LIC

He is an idiot. The building is across from PS 1. He had tour busses coming to 5 Pointz. Sculpture Center is there and other Galleries. The guy could have teamed up with MOMA and figured something out that would be lucrative to him. LIC is drowning in million dollar condos. We don't need more. He just doesn't understand the workings of the art/ tourist world. There was something for him to gain in this location by keeping the paintings. There is a ton of nostalgia for the bad old gritty days of NYC. 5 Pointz was a symbol of that (I know there is nothing gritty about LIC anymore). It stood for a NYC fantasy of good old BAD days.

Nov. 20 2013 03:07 PM
Tim Young from Sedona

A sin to whitewash. And let's face it in NYC real estate is always the trump card. Creeps.

Nov. 20 2013 01:53 PM
art525 from Park Slope

Sorry Lou but I do get it. And what I get is it is juvenile stuff. Cartoony images of light bulbs with angry faces, or not very well done skulls with baseball caps. Or big moony eyed portraits of Biggie Smalls, that is the type of stuff that eleventh graders have always done whether it was Jim Morrison, Kurt Colbain or now Tupac and Biggie. Sorry but it was adolescent. And had sooo been done. And that lettering, that graffiti style typeface- that is the same stuff that has been recycled over and over for 30 years. Sorry nothing of value there and nothing new. And it's sure not art.

Nov. 20 2013 11:55 AM
Lou from East NY

You all don't get it. And to say that the artwork is high school level is an insult because the majority of it was not.
It's not about tagging up. Everyone knows graffiti is fleeting and Especially the artists because their work could be painted over and another artist will create on that same spot. It's about culture. NYC is losing its culture to gentrification and high rent costs like what happened in park slope, Williamsburg, dumbo, etc. Neighborhoods made beautiful by artists are taken over by the wealthy. Our middle class is non-existent and they want to build MORE luxury high rise apartments in a city that's choking.
I understand the owner has been gracious to let artists use his walls all these years, but this building means so much to so many people around the world. And this building plus it's proximity to the city is what made that area. MOMA even opened up next door to it because of it.
Patti Smith was right. NYC is dead.

Nov. 20 2013 11:32 AM
Susan Tatum from NYC


Why couldn't they wait for the demolition team.


Nov. 20 2013 11:08 AM
art525 from Park Slope

This is all so ridiculous. Think of something you have that you value. Whether it is a building, your apartment, your car, your bike, or some nice coat. I paint some graffiti on it. Then I say it's a work of art and you can't do anythikng with it. For all intents and purposes I have appropriated it. Does that work for you? And no Mz Winkler that placed isn't valuable because of the "artwork". It is valuable because of it's location. If the "artwork" had made it valuable or desirable it would not have been painted over. It's just nonsense.

Nov. 20 2013 10:23 AM

The owner seems like a good and fair person, and his rationale for painting over the graffiti is sound and thoughtful. He has even said that he will allow graffiti on some sections of the new building he is making. This has become a non-issue; he has every right to build this new building and make some money on his property. Graffiti is fleeting by definition, just start over and stop complaining. The graffiti artists and supporters take themselves too seriously, any artist faced with the loss of work should just think about the future and what to do next; that is what makes modern art so alive and current.

Nov. 20 2013 09:17 AM
Dave from BKLYN

We should remember that making artworks "permanent" (especially art that pushes cultural and/or legal boundaries) is also enmeshed with various cultural forces, not the least of which is capitalist exploitation of artists. Witness, over the last hundred or so years, the mainstream acceptance of Impressionism, jazz, modern dance, rock & roll, hip-hop, tattoos, and porn.

Graffiti, in particular, has always been about the act of creating, as much as the final product. In other words, it has a temporary nature, like a theater piece, a baseball game, or a live concert. All of these can be preserved, but we have to acknowledge that they are but records of unique moments. I am certainly in favor of preserving works of art, but much of what we call art (certainly from the early 20th century onward) proceeds from a spontaneous impulse of the artist; the physical work is a record of that impulse.

That said, whitewashing the building was a lame move. Razing the building--with the art still intact--would have been a fitting final act in the performance.

Nov. 20 2013 09:15 AM
Penelope Katsaras from LIC

Oh my God....This is sooooooo sad!!! I loved this building!!!! I loved loved LOVED these paintings!!!!!!!!!! What is wrong with this guy???!!!!

Nov. 20 2013 09:11 AM
Linda Winkler from United States

This wouldn't necessarily have happened if the NYC Council hadn't CHANGED the zoning rules to allow him to build his soulless towers. The artists made the property valuable, and gave it worldwide recognition, then were cut lose when it served the owner's purpose.

Nov. 20 2013 08:28 AM
Stephen from Prospect Heights

Sort of disappointed how the producers or Amy E. framed as preservation vs. destruction. My politics are left of center, but I think it is a question of property. The owner has been generous all these years and needs to do what he needs to do. If we were to frame it as Amy suggested then we need to question the entire concept of property and maybe we should.

I hope that Amy or the producers respond.

Nov. 20 2013 08:10 AM
art525 from Park slope

Futura, Lee and a handful of others who created graffiti art did something original, creative and interesting. But since that time graffiti has just been a regurgitation of everything they did. There is nothing original (except Banksy who brought ideas to the medium). The pieces painted on the 5 Pointz building are no more interesting, original or skillful than that found in any high school art class. And of course there is the issue that graffiti was meant to be an outlaw art form done in the middle of the night and meant to be fleeting, there until the property owner wiped it away. That brings up the issue of ownership. It is really petulant to whine that after panting on someone else's wall that he so generously offered you for years. Now to demand that that "artwork" be preserved permanently and to try to prevent him to do as he sees fit with his property is the height of arrogance and entitlement. And finally for those who whine that the "artwork" was painted over in he middle of the night preventing them from being photographed and documented- this has been an ongoing legal case, this was not something that was sprung on unsuspecting "artists" in the middle of the night. Why didn't you who are exorcised a out this have the foresight to take those pictures over the last few months? Again nothi g I see is beyond the talent and vision of a 16 year old.

Nov. 20 2013 07:40 AM
Jim Demers from NYC

Judging from the reaction to the whitewashing, I'd say the owner made a pretty accurate assessment of the situation he was facing: endless protests, objections and obstructions. With an overnight fait accompli, he avoided most of the trouble.

The only thing I might have done differently is to make a photographic record of the works, as Mason suggested, to preserve the images for later use or display. I'd have given the digital images to the artists, along with copyrights, and let them do as they wish with them.

Nov. 20 2013 07:07 AM
Mason from Queens

I feel that the folks that were fighting so hard to to save the building failed to look at any other solutions for saving the artist's work. This building should have been photographed in high definition so that the images could be applied to any surface at a future date.

I believe that if an artist paints an image, such as the tiger on the west/south 2nd story level, over a window that has an air conditioner in the window, and believes that this is a permanent work of art, the artist is not in touch with the reality of what permanent means. Graffiti, is not meant to be permanent art. The essence of graffiti is that it is impermanent. In NYC it some times takes minutes for another graffitist to put their tag over another's work. Just ask Banksy.

Nov. 19 2013 07:58 PM
nafissa from ny

I se it as a dance, visual, to look at it appreciate it; ever fleeting, available and new.

Nov. 19 2013 06:35 PM
B from Brooklyn

you Fools!!!~

Its his building
He owns it

Let him do as he sees fit

the "artists" got to use it for free for years

the free for all party is over.
These spoiled cry babies need to get over it quick and move on


WNYC why are you continuing to report this non story?
You WNYC are not helping at all

Its his building Its his building Its his building

Nov. 19 2013 06:29 PM

The owner of that building sounds like a disingenuous jerk. There was NO need to do this in the depths of night. If he'd let people know, at least photos could have recorded it before he obliterated it. No excuse for destroying art.

Nov. 19 2013 05:29 PM
Bronxite from NYC

Well the MOMA recently purchased the adjacent site. Why not create an official street art museum? The new condos will contain ground floor commercial spaces which will make the intersection very vibrant along with MOMA PS1.

Nov. 19 2013 04:36 PM

One man's street art is another man's crap.

Nov. 19 2013 02:33 PM

I don't know that Queens doesn't have street cred. In hip-hop culture, which graffiti is part of, Queens has as much history and influence as anywhere.

Nov. 19 2013 02:09 PM
Capper from nyc

This is truly sad. While many knew this was coming, I would like to know where the media has been in terms of their support. I don't recall any outlet making it a major topic of discussion and/or remember seeing it in their headlines. It's outrageous that this was approved and allowed to happen.

Nov. 19 2013 01:45 PM
Steve B from Queens

I used to see it on the 7 train on the way to Manhattan all the time. To me it was iconic. I pointed it out and bragged about it whenever I had friends visiting from out of state. The tracks would curve around the building so you got a really great view, though nothing compared to finally seeing it in person a couple of weeks ago.

Queens will never have as much street cred as Brooklyn or Manhattan, but for once there was something distinctly ours that no other borough had. There are plenty of luxury condos in New York. Do we really need more? Seems like the wealthy elite want to fast track this city to a culture-less gated community for the rich.

Nov. 19 2013 01:35 PM
art=people from nyc

A nation that sits back and allows art - PUBLIC ART - to be destroyed allows will down the road allow humans to be destroyed. BOOKS = ART = CULTURE = HUMAN BEINGS.

Nov. 19 2013 12:45 PM

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