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Archive for February 25th, 2018

Sometimes, I read a news article that makes me wonder if we are all living in a madhouse and the inmates are running the show.

Two weeks ago, there was one such article about a group of graffiti artists being awarded $6.7 million when the building on which they had created their works was demolished by its owner. Let me back up a little…

In the mid-nineties, building owner Gerard Wolkoff allowed a non-profit group called Phun Phactory to paint over the outside walls of his Long Island City warehouse. The move appears to have been purely altruistic, its purpose being to keep graffiti artists out of trouble for defacing private property. For a while, Wolkoff even allowed these artists to live and work cheaply in the building. In the following decades, as graffiti artists used the walls for their work, the building became a mecca for tourists and others who wanted to view the graffiti. About 10 years ago, Wolkoff decided to tear down the building to make way for high rise luxury towers and the case wound up in court; the artists did not want their works destroyed with the demolition of the building. They claimed that the works were protected under the VisualArtists Rights Act. In 2013, while the case was still in court, Wolkoff had the walls whitewashed overnight; the buildings were demolished 10 months later and construction of the high rise towers begun.

In November 2017, a jury found in favor of the artists and two weeks ago, the judge awarded them the maximum damages possible: $ 6.7 million. I won’t go into the details of his argument in doing so but I’m appalled by the decision. I don’t care for property developers , in general, but I feel Wolkoff was hard done by. For twenty years he allowed these ” artists” the use of his buildings as a canvas ; yet, they then turned around and sued him when he wanted to demolish them. The buildings were his property and he had a perfect right to do so. That fact should have taken precedence over everything else including the artistic value of the graffiti ” art”.

How could anyone put a value on this graffiti? How was the figure of $6.7 million  arrived at in assessing damages? The artists whose work it was would never have realized a red cent for their works since they could never sell them. Why then should they have been awarded so much? If , indeed, the judge was bound by the letter of the law that declared the graffiti was a protected work of art, he could have found for the plaintiffs and awarded them the token sum of $1.

In my opinion, graffiti is a visual crime. I’ve seen plenty of pictures of 5Pointz and, when considered in its totality, those walls were an eyesore. Graffiti , by its very nature, is temporary , always under threat of being painted over either by the building owner or by other graffiti artists. What happened to 5Pointz was bound to happen one day, and did.

One other consequence of this trial and decision: In the future, no other building owner will allow the walls of his property to be sprayed over in the name of art. Good.

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