The landmark factory building and world-famous “graffiti mecca” known as 5Pointz is officially on death row, having lost its latest battle against the landlord and developers who want to see it razed to make room for two luxury apartment buildings. Named to signify the coming together of all five NYC boroughs, 5Pointz encompasses 200,000 square feet of artist studios, galleries and walls covered in graffiti art.
“I made something special with the 5pointz—not me, but the artists,” Jeffrey Wolkoff, the building’s owner, told WNYC. “I created it, a vision, and we’re going to do something special on these buildings, something special by the time we’re finished with it.”
Marie Flageul, a spokesperson for 5Pointz artists, doesn’t see anything special about another luxury doorman building going up in New York, and in this case, she says it’s harming the creative community: “Long Island City is not Williamsburg. Long Island City is not Dumbo. Long Island City has been struggling from day one to keep an artists scene. And everything they’re doing in developing Long Island City is pushing out the artists.”
According the 5Pointz website, founder and curator Jonathan Cohen, a graffiti veteran mostly known through his tag Meres One, had “plans to convert the five-story, block-long industrial complex at Jackson Avenue and Davis Street into a graffiti museum.” He had been seeking a 501(c)3 certification for 5Pointz to receive tax-exempt status, which would have allowed tax-deductible donations. But instead, LIC will be getting two apartment towers, both more than 40 stories.
The site also notes: “Over the past decade, the striking, graffiti-covered warehouse has attracted several hip-hop and R&B stars, including Doug E. Fresh, Kurtis Blow, Grandmaster Kaz, Mobb Deep, Rahzel, DJ JS-1, Boot Camp Clik, Joan Jett, and Joss Stone.”
A small concession has been made, however. Wolkoff, who let artists cover his building in graffiti since 2002—including a celebrated portrait of the one of hip-hop’s founding fathers, Jam-Master Jay—said that the new buildings will have an arts space “for some artists, not graffiti, but regular artists.”
Not sure what a “regular artist” is, but for fans and purveyors of aerosol-based art, it’s a sad day—and time to make one last pilgrimage to the place known as the “Institute of Higher Burnin’.” The apartment complex’s residents will have to get their art fix from nearby MoMA/PS1, a converted public school that does feature some works painted directly on its interior walls (like Richard Artschwager’s famous pill-shaped “blips“).
Historically, graffiti has generally been viewed by the ruling class as vandalism, but it has found a warm embrace within the confines of contemporary art. Curator and art dealer Jeffrey Deitch, for example, has been a strong defender, having been involved with graffiti and street art culture for three decades.
Deitch’s first show in New York following his recent resignation from MOCA opens today at Leila Heller Gallery and reprises “Calligraffiti,” an exploration of Middle Eastern street art and calligraphy that he curated in 1984. The exhibition is timely. Just this month, the Amman, Jordan-based news website Al Bawaba observed that “[g]raffiti, once the trade of thugs and unruly teens, is having something of a second coming in the Middle East.”
Indeed, while many see graffiti as a scourge, it has often proven to be a unifying social force, particularly for communities that have undergone periods of shared hardship. In her essay “Graffiti as Trash Rhetoric: Debating the Future of New Orleans through its Public Space,” Doreen Piano, associate professor at the University of New Orleans, notes “graffiti’s role in the city’s recovery, engendering a vibrant local writing culture.”
And then of course, there is the art form’s lighter side. “Graffiti is one of the few tools you have if you have almost nothing,” wrote graffiti artist and street art provocateur Banksy in his book Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall. “And even if you don’t come up with a picture to cure world poverty you can make someone smile while they’re having a piss.”
For more information about 5Pointz, visit their website.