Whitewashing 5Pointz

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Getting off the 7 train between Jackson Heights and Davis Avenue in Long Island City, you immediately get hit by the faint smell of paint resembling what was, and now is, 5Pointz.  The large building that was once covered entirely with graffiti, and was one of the largest shrines to graffiti culture in the world, now stands as a building painted white. Walking down the block you would think it’s just some random street in the middle of nowhere, but once you get closer, all you see is a 200,000 square foot old factory building. It once resembled all the culture and memories that the graffiti community shared.

“I would walk past it every day looking up and wondering, wow just imagine all the people that have come together in this place, all the different races that joined together to create this masterpiece. It’s such a shame that such a community bound thing could be taken away by greed. It’s a shame,” said one Long Island City resident taking pictures with his girlfriend of one of the remaining pieces on the side of the building.

There wasn’t one person that walked by that didn’t stop to look at what has become of the marvelous landmark. High school kids riding their bikes couldn’t help but stop and try to find any type of Save 5Pointz stickers that were on the outer sidewalks of the building. One kid who tried to take a sticker was stopped by an older girl on her bike—“No, leave it. You don’t mess with a memorial,” she said to him. A memorial, a masterpiece, a monument—these are some of the words that came out of people’s mouths when they heard of the whitewashing of 5Pointz.

Efforts to stop the decisions by the owner, Jerry Wolkoff, to replace the building with condos were taken in affect once word got out. The news resulted in petitions and a peaceful assembly at 5Pointz in effort to change the mind of Wolkoff, however it wasn’t effective. Instead, days before demolition started, Wolkoff whitewashed the once iconic artwork in the wee hours of the morning. Ironically, his defacing a building in the middle of the night is something that a young street artist would do.

Twitter posts show that Wolkoff believes he was on everyone’s side. He wanted to paint the building white so that the individual artists wouldn’t have to witness their actual artworks being demolished bit by bit. But most believe it was due in part to attempts to mark the place as a “recognized stature.” Instead, Wolkoff took the matter into his own hands before 5Pointz ever had the chance to be named a historic landmark.

According to Twitter feed, Wolkoff said of the new building:“Panels will be placed on the outside of the two new residential towers to allow for aerosol art, I’m on their side,” (meaning the artists’, but it never looked that way).

What Wolkoff doesn’t see is that 5Pointz wasn’t just some building that could be replaced with a larger canvas—it was a building of inspiration and creativity, a painting within itself, and everyone knows you can’t recreate the same painting twice.

A lot of controversy has risen over the destruction of graffiti in the past months in New York City, starting from a farewell graffiti balloon piece by famous street artist Banksy that was taken down by officials, to the demolition of another long lasting graffiti mural spot in the Bronx. All of this is making people wonder how much is really protected under the U.S. Visual Artists Rights Act? And where is the line drawn between art and graffiti, anyway?

Graffiti has become such a common thing for people in New York to notice, but how much of our culture is protected when such drastic changes are being made to the art of our communities?

It is clear that places similar to 5Pointz are slowly becoming extinctt, so you might as well check them out before there’s nothing left. Interestingly, the destruction of graffiti landmarks just forces street artists to go back to the streets where graffiti first started in the ’80s. I mean, after these incidents haven’t you noticed an increasing number of graffiti in places you’ve never looked before?

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As for 5Pointz, it’s a building now painted white with colors pouring through wanting to escape intthe scene we all once knew. 5Pointz wasn’t just some building that had graffiti on it; it was a home to creative and talented people who used its brick walls as a way to express themselves without restriction—and that can never be replaced.

by Eleni Florides ’14

(top image – Eleni Florides, bottom image via http://www.rsvlts.com)

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