The group of artists and supporters for the aerosol mecca 5Pointz sat uncomfortably in their seats as they waited for Judge Block to call their case number on Oct. 17.
Many wore 5Pointz T-shirts and jeans which, despite the clean, professional setting of the Federal District Court in Brooklyn, did not make them look out of place.
“What is it you want?” Block said to Jeannine Chanes and Roland Acevedo, the two attorneys representing the artists.
The question created an instant tension in the room as onlookers shifted in their seats, some appearing too nervous to look up from their hands.
“We prefer to be given the opportunity to purchase the building at a fair market value,” Chanes said. “Our money is as good as anyone else’s.”
Almost immediately after the City Council ruled in favor of granting G & M Realty, owners of the old warehouse on Jackson Avenue known as 5Pointz, a variance that would allow it to demolish the building and create a massive development, a press release was sent out announcing that a federal lawsuit had been filed to block it.
The plaintiffs are claiming that by G & M Realty razing 5Pointz, it will also be violating the Visual Artists Rights Act, signed into law in 1988.
“The artists who have painted on the building did not sign a waiver, that didn’t happen,” Chanes said. “They have rights over their work and are entitled to those rights.”
Throughout the opening arguments, Block proved that he was going to be a tough nut to crack.
“This is an interesting cup of tea, I’ll say that,” he said facing Chanes. “You’re going to have a tough case to prove.”
Though the artists looked frustrated, Chanes continued to make their case, but then defending attorney David Ebert dropped the bomb that almost killed the lawsuit before it could even get a chance to begin.
“If you look at the website, the videos, the pictures, these things are temporary,” Ebert said. “They are always being painted over and they haven’t pointed to a single piece that’s been there for more than 10 years.”
Ebert continued by saying that because the walls were not a coinciding mural but a hodgepodge of different pieces, the VARA would not apply to the work.
“Why don’t you two sit down and discuss this?” Block asked after the two parties went back and forth a while. “It seems like the defendant has been a supporter of the arts and has given the artists a lot.”
Though no final decision on what would become of the building in Long Island City was forthcoming, the plaintiffs were hoping Block would grant an injunction on the space and to hold a hearing so the artists could voice their love of 5Pointz in their own words.
In the end, Block did not issue an injunction but he did place a 10-day restraining order on the building, meaning neither party can touch or alter the walls on the property in any way until Oct. 28.
As the session ended, the artists and 5Pointz supporters sat almost in disbelief. Many were stone faced while others were more visibly upset about the outcome.
“Take photos of everything you can,” Chanes said to the group outside of the courtroom. “Take photos of as much as possible to show the pieces that have stayed up longer than two years.”
The artists’ lawyers maintain that while pieces on the ground floor are temporary, many, if not all, of the works on the upper floors of the building have been in place for several years.
“It’s like any museum,” Chanes said. “You have a permanent installation and you have the temporary exhibits. The argument that none of the pieces have remained up for more than two years isn’t a substantial one.”
Chanes said that the website was quoted out of context and that it isn’t maintained by Meres but by a 5Pointz volunteer who may not have worded everything clearly.
While the fight isn’t over, many of the artists left looking defeated and empty. Even Meres, the curator for 5Pointz, looked upset.
“Meres was upset at first,” Chanes said. “I think all of the artists were, but this is a big win for us. We’re going to fight like hell and make sure this goes forward.”
Ebert was furious when Block said his client wouldn’t be able to continue pre-construction work on the building.
“This is a multimillion dollar project,” he said. “I’m going to have to go back to him and tell him that he’s not allowed to work on his own property?”
After the 10 days are up, the judge will decide whether to hold a hearing and issue an injunction.
Ultimately, the artists would like to purchase the property and create a mixed-use community center where artists from all over the world can create and students from all over the country can watch their work unfold.
If they do not get their wish, Chanes said that they will be suing for monetary gain which could, at best, grant each artist upwards of $150,000 for damages.
“That’s not what they want,” she said. “The money is not the goal. The artists want to have control over the building without worrying about it being taken away from them.”
Dozens of pieces created by the 16 artists involved in the case are currently awaiting a copyright registration decision from the United States Copyright Office.
“This is not going to be fixed overnight,” Chanes said. “But the artists are still entitled to their rights and we’re going to see to that.”