Feb. 13 (UPI) — A New York City developer must pay $6.7 million to 21 graffiti artists after he painted over their artwork, a judge ruled Monday.
The judgment ends a dispute that had been ongoing since 2013, when real estate developer Jerry Wolkoff whitewashed over murals that were painted on the walls of the 5 Pointz complex he owned. He then turned the building into luxury apartments in 2014.
But the murals weren’t everyday graffiti. They were part of what 21 of the artists called “the world’s largest open-air aerosol museum,” and they sued Wolkoff under the Visual Artists Rights Act, which protects public art of “recognized stature” that has been created on someone’s else property, The New York Times reported.
In November, a jury ruled in favor of the artists, and on Monday, Judge Frederic Block handed down the judgment.
“The shame of it all is that since 5 Pointz was a prominent tourist attraction, the public would undoubtedly have thronged to say its goodbyes during those 10 months and gaze at the formidable works of aerosol art for the last time,” Block wrote in his decision. “It would have been a wonderful tribute for the artists that they richly deserved.”
Block said the judgment took into consideration that Wolkoff painted over the walls while litigation was pending, the New York Post reported.
“If not for Wolkoff’s insolence, these damages would not have been assessed,” Block wrote. “If he did not destroy 5 Pointz until he received his permits and demolished it 10 months later, the Court would not have found that he had acted willfully.”
Wolkoff has owned the buildings in 5 Pointz since 1971 and was the person who initially gave permission to graffiti artists to paint murals on the walls in 2002.
But New York City’s real estate market began to boom and the area around 5 Pointz, situated in Queens’ now-gentrified Long Island City area, was no exception. Wolkoff then set out to cash in on the value of his property by turning the properties into top-dollar apartments and decided graffiti art no longer belonged there.
At the time of the whitewashing, Wolkoff said he was heartbroken that the art had to be painted over.
“I am telling you, I did not like what they did — I loved what they did,” Wolkoff told The New York Times in November 2013. “I cried this morning, I swear to you.”
But many local residents lambasted the decision and Marie Flageul, a spokesperson for the artists in 2013, said Wolkoff’s actions were “artistic murder.”
“It’s vandalism from the guys who want the building back,” she said at the time of the whitewashing. “This is a tragedy. It’s a signature Jerry Wolkoff move. If things don’t go his way, he takes them in his own hands.”