You have probably already heard the sorry vandalism story about how the United Nations of Graffiti came to an end. The NYT offered several points of view in Night Falls, and 5Pointz, a Graffiti Mecca, Is Whited Out in Queens.
Also know as "The Institute for Higher Burnin'" and originally established in 1993 as a program called "Graffiti Terminators to Discourage Graffiti Vandalism" the 200,000-square-foot factory building was also a place where around 200 artists paid below market rents for studio space. In the view below from the 7 train before the whiteout, note the sleeping woman with the rainbow glove by Dasic.
It is a tragic story in that 5Pointz was unique in this world. The name was given because it was originally thought to attract artist from all five boroughs but instead it became a world art center. The building attracted spray artist from all over the world and it became a constantly evolving tribute to a still misunderstood form of art.
In many ways the tragedy reads like the great American success story. Jerry Wolkoff purchased a dilapidated building in an industrial neighborhood that had seen better days. He got friendly with struggling artist for the meager income and once gentrification came into play, the man allied himself with real estate developers to get much richer.
In a perfect world another rich person would have come to the rescue and 5Pointz would have become the "World Museum of Graffiti." There was no rich savior and the efforts of artist and supporters to get government involved was hopeless from the beginning. The only reason New York City has a Grand Central Terminal is that the descendants of Cornelius Vanderbilt thought that news photos of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis chaining herself to the bulldozer would have been bad for public relations.
But there was no such luck, so early yesterday morning, after going through all of the zoning hurdles and winning all of the court battles, Jerry Wolkoff, who is still the owner of the building had a bunch of workers show up at 1 AM to whitewash away all of that art, 1,500 works of art according to one artist.
It was totally within the rights of the owner, who is going to convert 5Pointz into luxury condominiums that as a last gesture of good will the man vandalized his own building.
He said the whitewash was to spare artist the pain of watching those masterpieces disappear brick by brick.
I've had the pleasure of meeting with and learning from many of these artist over the summer, even the occasional assist ;-)
I've spoken several times with Jonathan Cohen, who is known as Meres One in the graffiti world and has been the curator of 5pointz since 2002. His art is very impressive.
I'm sure there are many hard feelings after the whiteout. Jonathan Cohen posed for this photo a while back.
But to me the owner dosen't seem like such a bad guy and this dosen't feel like an ending. On the bright side, Jerry Wolkoff spent twenty years helping to educate people like myself and many others as to the value of Aerosol Art. The history of 5Pointz left a mark.
Jerry Wolkoff played a part in elevating graffiti from vandalism to to an acceptable form of art. Some of the younger artist I met out there this year had never once broken the law to express themselves.
I think the photo below demonstrates the advancement of graffiti in these past twenty years. Graffiti has been transformed from a label for writers who vandalize to a mother and child day at an outdoor museum.
Graffiti has become a tourist attraction.
This is no longer vandalism.
This is art.
5Pointz was the first Graffiti Mecca but I have no doubt that it won't be the last. Just like French Impressionism, that was met with harsh opposition from the conventional art community, Aerosol Art has gotten through the early days and the necessity for historians, a home and curators is obvious to many. The tragedy, from my point of view is if the next Graffiti Mecca is not in New York. So I have a bright idea.
More like a pipe dream from a coalition of one but I'll write in anyway. This week the city council was presented with plans from developers to transform the Fulton Fish Market into a high rise hotel. Now unlike Jerry Wolkoff who is developing private property, this is public property. Since it was once a public square, taking it out of the hands of the people is like telling developers "Sure, put a hotel in Central Park."
So here is this building in Manhattan, not pretty but in better shape than 5Pointz and almost perfect for the development of a graffiti museum. Just about any underused municipal property could make a replacement for 5Pointz but the Fulton Fish Market and its rich history as a public place would be perfect. Just clean the garbage out of the inside and get painting. Eventually the moneyed few will get involved and the site would be developed to a real museum.
Of course it would be great to still have a place in NYC where there is a worldwide graffiti artist community and a place for them to exchange ideas. But that will never happen so I’m going to miss Aerosol Art calling New York City “Home.”
This was my final view of 5Pointz -
Hopefully I'll see it reborn in New York City.