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Queens Chronicle

Fight to save 5Pointz building continues

Artists take issue to court after Council votes in favor of variance

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Posted: Thursday, October 17, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 11:19 am, Thu Oct 24, 2013.

Despite a recent City Council vote granting a variance to raze the building referred to as 5Pointz, artists and art supporters are trying to keep the mustard-colored building adorned with aerosol art.

“This is not about just losing artwork on the walls,” said Marie Cecile Flageul, who works closely with the artists of 5Pointz. “We have schools, art programs and tourists who come here every day, year round. Where are the schools going to go? There is no place else.”

Now that the city has approved in an almost unanimous vote — Councilman Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn) was the only no vote— the variance filed by G & M Realty and David and Jerry Wolkoff, several artists have filed a federal lawsuit to prevent the destruction of the “Mecca of the aerosol art world.”

“The lawsuit is two things. We feel throughout this entire process there has been a lot of hypocrisy,” Flageul said. “The goal is not to make the landlord’s life miserable. We’re just trying to slow him down and start a dialogue.

“It’s not about hating the Wolkoffs, which is what I think a lot of people are making it seem like. It is about protecting this place that is unlike anything else in the world.”

The lawsuit alleges violations of the Visual Artists Rights Act and copyright law. Lawyers claim that 5Pointz is unique in that it houses what is believed to be the largest collection of aerosol and street art in the world.

“There are specific previsions,” said Jeannine Chanes, one of the representing attorneys for the 17 artists suing G & M. “Those previsions are if a work of art has been incorporated into a structure so that it cannot be removed and the owner consented to the art being placed there, it cannot be removed without the artist’s consent. They didn’t sign a waiver, that never happened. Secondly, the work or the artist has to be of a significant stature.”

Chanes sited the internationally known aerosol artist and stencilist Banksy, who has been touring New York City throughout the month of October. He recently visited Woodside where he put up one of his signature stencils on an old moving company building.

“His work wouldn’t be covered by VARA because he doesn’t have permission to do it,” she said. “Also, if I give my 7-year-old a crayon to draw on my walls, that doesn’t apply because it isn’t a significant piece of artwork, nor is it done by a significant artist.”

Whether or not the VARA will apply to 5Pointz is unclear as in addition to the well-known artists who have worked on the building, like Jonathan Cohen, the 5Pointz curator also known as Meres, there are other, lesser-known artists as well.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs also claim that 5Pointz is unique in that it houses what is believed to be the largest collection of aerosol and street art in the world.

In a press release from the artists of 5Pointz, the reasons supporting the landmarking of the building continue.

“The 5Pointz collection includes works done by some of the world’s most renowned aerosol/street artists, including works from artists who traveled as far as Australia, Japan and Brazil to paint there,” the release said. “5Pointz is a large tourist attraction that brings millions of tourist dollars to New York City every year.

“The 17 artists we included in the lawsuit are all established aerosol artists,” Chanes said. “Meres was invited to Geneva to paint. They’re all professional artists but even so, it could be argued that because 5Pointz is so famous and they don’t let just anyone put their art up, that you have to be a significant person in the art world and be respected and talented enough to be allowed to paint on the building.”

Though the City Council vote happened just last week, Chanes said that she and a second attorney Roland Acevedo have been working with the artists for some time now.

“We’ve been working on this for about a month,” she said. “It’s not a last resort, they have been trying to landmark the building for some time now.”

Cohen and the other artists are looking to put a board together, raise money and make an offer to buy the building from the Wolkoff family.

“After 14 or 15 years of work, we have commissioned with Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Luis Vuitton, we know it will work,” Flageul said. “That will be our goal to make an offer, a reasonable offer, and put in classrooms, a photo studio, recording studio, residency program so that international artists can come and share their craft.”

“5Pointz is the Louvre of the aerosol world and is a real testament to talent and creativity of the younger, new wave artists,” a European tourist who recently visited the graffitied building said.

On Thursday, the 17 artists will appear at the Federal Courthouse located at 225 Cadman Plaza East in Brooklyn at 3 p.m. The hearing is open to the public.

Flageul and Chanes were both confident that the judge will be fair and rule in favor of the hundreds of artists who have paid homage to the hallowed halls of 5Pointz by scribing their tag on the concrete walls.

The plaintiffs have asked the federal court to issue an injunction to prevent the destruction of 5Pointz pending the outcome of the lawsuit.

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