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Judge halts 5Pointz demolition for 10 days

Artists celebrate the judges issuing of a temporary restraining order against tearing down 5Pointz. Photo by Bill Parry
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The artists from 5Pointz got what they were hoping for when they took developer G & M Realty to court Thursday, a 10-day temporary restraining order meaning their artwork cannot be touched and the building may not be destroyed, for now. After the owners of the Long Island City property, David and Jerry Wolkoff, received unanimous approval from the City Council last week to demolish the complex, the graffiti artists took them to court.

The 17 artists listed as plaintiffs in the suit filed in Brooklyn federal court and dozens of their supporters had been brimming with confidence that their attorneys had devised a brilliant strategy. The legal team believed that the 1990 Visual Artists Rights Act might protect the artwork, and the building, from demolition. Before the hearing, plaintiff attorney Jeannine Chanes said, “Under VARA they can’t destroy the art without the permission of the artist.” They were outmaneuvered.

G & M Realty’s lawyers submitted papers a couple of hours before the hearing that contended the 350 graffiti murals that adorn the walls of the complex are not permanent works of art, therefore they are not covered by VARA. The artists themselves paint over the graffiti to make room for new pieces, they said.

This information was gleaned from the artists’ own website and then taken out of context, according to Marie Cecile Flageul, spokeswoman for the 5Pointz artists, who said, “PS 1 doesn’t have a permanent collection, no museum does, why is street art any different?”

Brooklyn Federal Judge Frederic Block said, “These things are painted over and replaced, they are not permanent fixtures, I have to flesh out if they are transitory or permanent.”

That will be the subject of a future hearing, but Block made it clear the artists face a rough road when he said, “You are trying to save the walls and tell the owner he can’t use his property, I think you have a tough case here.”

When the judge issued the temporary restraining order, he urged both parties to talk and negotiate over the next 10 days. He also said the owners cannot touch the artwork or prepare the building for demolition. and the artists may not paint.

Block made it quite clear when he said to Jeannine Chanes, “You should know you are likely to lose, I’ll be hard-pressed to keep him from developing that property.”

But Marie Cecile Flageul, who represents the 5Pointz artists, was upbeat.

“We went into this to get a restraining order and we got it, so now we know we can sleep for 10 nights knowing the art won’t be touched,” she said.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538

Updated 6:14 pm, October 18, 2013
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