Erased Walls of Graffiti History / by AK47

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Yes, one of the high-top most respected and renowned places when the subject is graffiti and street art, the 5 Pointz, was erased. On this exact moment the building is still there, standing, but all the wall, inside and out, were covered with paint by the property's owner. because this situation is unique, and a lot of people don't know why Mr. Jerry Wolkoff could not have done this, I will try to summarize what we have witnessed up close here in Queens, NYC.

On this article, I will try to be impartial, and not let my feelings overcome the facts. On the last few months we have visited this place several times, and everything I say here is a product of what my eyes and ears captured, and from conversations with friends that fight for this place. My intention is only to make it clear what a lot of people try hard to conceal.

The building is owned by a fortunate man named Jerry Wolkoff, nice, good orator, polite. This building was "partially abandoned" during the last years, causing major damage to people who rented the rooms, and who never received proper restitution for such, despite the carelessness of the landlord having being proven. One of the most commented examples of accidents that was on the international media was the collapse of the exterior stairs due to lack of maintenance (see this link: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/queens/collapse-stairwell-leads-vacate-order-lic-5pointz-article-1.364015), what caused a big loss to the victims involved.

On the last decade all the art painted on those walls were done with the owner's consent. In other words, the building wasn't vandalized by the artist, because they did have authorization to work there.

Some months ago, Mr. Wolkoff decided he wanted to demolish the building to erect a new luxury apartment complex, while a group of artists decided to fight to keep the place intact as cultural patrimony. A few people think the owner is right, thousands are on the artists' side. Who is right in this story is not important but what I write on the next lines is:

Throughout this time we've been living in NYC, I've had the opportunity to paint in several walls of the building. One of the hardest to reach facades was covered with a big piece made by the artist CHEMIS, from the Czech Republic, and I. It was cataloged and registered, and taken to the "U.S. Copyright Office" as one of the anchor art works in defense of 5 Pointz... I ended up becoming one of the artists engaged in the cause.

That being said, I joined some legal sessions at the NYC court, and had the opportunity to see the project presented by Mr. Wolkoff in hands. 

Once again: RIGHT or WRONG are variable concepts, and who has the right to decide if 5 Pointz should become a museum of the Hip Hop culture or an apartment complex that will never have tenants, is not me, not you, but the judge.  Who gives the final word in deciding for a tourist, cultural spot and artistic estate against a white elephant is the entitled legal authority. As far as I know, Mr. Wolkoff has all the right to fight for what he wants, and so have the artists. After all, we live in a democracy where the majority votes for what's best for the population, right? ... Well, sort of. It seems like this is not the way it is going on.

Last Saturday, at the 5 Pointz courtyard, happened a very important event: the community within the Queens neighborhood (and from other parts of NYC) showed up protesting for the maintenance of the building. According to neighborhood residents, the building is the only point of interest in this part of the town, and draws visitors from all ages, tourists, photographers, historians, and artists from all fields. Many reported that after this space was creates, the criminality dropped a lot, and what was only “a stronghold of prostitutes and drug dealers”, was now a point of interest to tourists in all 4 corners of the world. The event called “Save 5 Pointz Rally” was amazing, and thousands of signatures accumulated pledging for the building maintenance.

Soon after this event (coincidentally?), at dawn last Tuesday, the building was attacked, and almost all the art pieces were covered by white paint. The painting was done by an army of foreign workers, who did not speak English, hired specifically to destroy the graffiti art. Some used lifts to reach the higher panels, others used rolls and ladders. The painting began inside out, so it wouldn't be noticed right away, and the facade was the last part to be erased. The NY police was escorting the employees, and some of my friends were almost arrested because they were inquiring about what was being done and taking photographs. This is very weird, since taking pictures of actions in public space is permitted and protected by law. Furthermore, according to eye witnesses, some cops were not wearing their ID tags.

The results of this “beautiful remodeling” action can be seen on the images bellow:

Shortly after the incident, by sunset, on Tuesday, hundreds of people from all over NY ran to 5 Pointz as a solidarity gesture. Many had candles and posters. Press from all over the world was present, and the atmosphere was of mourning. Looking at the building, is easy to notice that it wasn't painted as a whole, but in a goofy way. Some pieces were only tampered, almost to say “I rule this place”.  Some celebrities even stated that this had been “stupid and unfounded vandalism”.

After talking to the lawyer dedicated to defending 5 Pointz as cultural heritage, Jeannine Chanes, I learned that Mr. Wolkoff did not have legal permission to do what he had done. The judgement is still ongoing, and the judge didn't decide what is going to be made of the building yet. Many people speculated that the gesture was an attempt to shaken the artistic community and weaken the movement... Others believe it was an affront from Mr. Wolkoff, destroying art pieces without a chance of recovery, some by artists that are already dead.

The end of this story we don't know yet, since there is still a lot to be settled in court. What we definitely know is that the fight isn't over, and that the artists are more united and motivated than ever. YES, the loss of 11 years of art work is irreparable, and we know it can be undone. But if Mr. Wolkoff thought that  he was going to make the activists back off... sorry... he's mistaken. The population is still there, writing their messages on the posters... even after being coerced by the new building security guard, and the “private police force”.

I will say this one more time: I'm not making a point of who is right, or who should win the case! I only know that in the society we live in, we all have the constitutional right to fight for what we believe, at least in theory... if we take into account that we indeed live in a democracy. 

...


I can't prove if there is corruption in this case. I can't prove that there is bad faith, and things happening behind the scenes. But something doesn't sound right... of that I am sure. I would like to finish this post by leaving some little questions, that still remain unanswered:

- Last Saturday, at the public event, everybody involved was elaborating ideas on the microphone to protect the 5Pointz, watched by the NY police and eye witnesses. Why is it that coincidentally the destruction of the art pieces happened right after this event?

- Mr. Wolkff said to the international press that the act was not an meant as an insult, and it was out of bad faith. Why is it then that the painters acted at dawn without any previous warning? Why didn't they act in front of the cameras?

- If this act did not have the legal authorities support, then why was it escorted by the NYC police?

- If it was a legal action, why didn't the cops have their ID tags?

- If the intention was a complete remodeling of the building, why weren't the walls completely painted? If this wasn't an affront and display of power, why were some pieces only tampered?

- The owner claimed he didn't do anything to offend the artists, or to weaken the party. If Mr. Wolkoff's goal is to demolish the building, why did he spend all that money to paint it right before it being  knocked down.? 

- If the 5Pointz has always been a place unprotected day and night, with many violence accounts, why do we have the police force at the building 24hours a day now? Why is it that the police now defends the property of one individual, while dozens of neighborhood residents had asked for police backup throughout the years without any response? Could it be that the “money” factor has something to do with it?

...

I would like to believe that the human being is good, pure, fair and impartial, but it is hard this way. While those questions remain unanswered, we will remain vigilant.

...

SAVE 5 POINTZ!
It's not for me, it's not for my art, it's not for a simple building!

SAVE 5 POINTZ!
It's for the Queens, it's for NYC, it's for the collective, it's for the Hip Hop Culture, it's for the streets!

...

(Pictures of the place by Karol Agante. Reference pictures taken from websites. Testimonials and facts told by friends who will have their names omitted to preserve their privacy and safety. Final article by AK47. Translation gently made by the collaborator Ana Orosco.)

>>> CLICK HERE TO READ THIS ARTICLE IN "PORTUGUESE".