April 10, 2017

"5Pointz Graffiti Artists Whose Works Were Erased Will Get Day in Court."

The NYT reports.
This is no vandalism case in a criminal courthouse, but rather a federal lawsuit filed in 2013 by the 23 artists who painted regularly at 5Pointz, against its owner, Jerry Wolkoff, who ordered the artwork destroyed....

The judge’s ruling offers the artists a chance to confront Mr. Wolkoff in court and to seek redress for painting over their work, said Jonathan Cohen, an artist who had curated the murals and helped organize the artists at 5Pointz since 2002....

In an interview, Mr. Wolkoff called the judge’s decision “mind boggling” because the art was never intended for anything but short-term display. The 5Pointz artists followed a street graffiti tradition of creating murals knowing full well that they would soon be painted over by other artists, he added.

“They call it bombing, and the next artist goes over someone else’s work,” he said. “They painted over their own work continually, and it goes on for years. That’s the idea of graffiti. There were tens of thousands of paintings there, over the years, and they’d last for three or six or nine months.... I never thought they’d sue me — they bit the hand that fed them,” he said, adding that the work was, after all, spray painted on his property. He said he reminded the artists constantly that one day he would turn the building into high-rises.

“They knew for 10 years I was going to tear the building down,” he said.... “I know people laugh at me but I cried” watching the building come down, Mr. Wolkoff said.
How can the artists can win this? Relying on Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, they claim entitlement to notice in writing 90 days before the destruction of the art, which, they say, would have given them the opportunity to remove or photograph the work. The artists are not arguing that the owner can't tear down his building.

(Here's my earlier blog post about this controversy.)

48 comments:

Tank said...

This is what Summary Judgment is for.

rehajm said...

How can the artists can win this?

Publicity, satisfaction of extracting time, money and emotional distress, activist judges...

Laslo Spatula said...

All your walls are belong to us.

I am Laslo.

Jamie said...

Like they didn't take pictures already. Sigh.

Bill, Republic of Texas said...

The owner should name the whitewashing "a meditation on white privilege No7" and call it political art.

zipity said...

The fact that this suit wasn't thrown out of court minutes after it was filed indicates just how far down the rabbit hole we've gone...

Big Mike said...

The judge needs to be impeached for not laughing this case out of court in the first five minutes.

wildswan said...

The judge should go over to the place and write the fpllowing judgement as graffiti on a wall or sidewalk nearby:

"The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream."

And leave them to it.

Humperdink said...

Re: Private property

Aristophanes ....

Praxagora: I want all to have a share of everything and all property to be in common; there will no longer be either rich or poor; […] I shall begin by making land, money, everything that is private property, common to all. […]

Blepyrus: But who will till the soil?

Praxagora: The slaves.

Made me laugh.

Laslo Spatula said...

Interesting bit from the 5Pointz website:

"MISSION STATEMENT
5Pointz gallery curator, Meres, plans to convert the five-story, block-long industrial complex at Jackson Avenue and Davis Street into a graffiti museum. He is currently seeking a 501(c)3 certification for 5Pointz to confer tax-exempt status and allow tax-deductible donations..."

Site seems to have stopped being updated around 2013.

Was he thinking he could raise the amount of money for the property, or was he hoping the government might step in?

From Wiki:

"On August 21, 2013, the New York City Planning Commission unanimously voted to approve plans to build condos on the property, while the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission rejected a landmark status nomination by artists because the art was less than 30 years old at the time"

I am Laslo.

Fernandinande said...

Bogus judge + Bogus law = no good deed goes unpunished.

If a house painter draws a smiley-face on your house, then he has some rights to determine what you do with your house? Sure.

The artists are not arguing that the owner can't tear down his building.

They already tried that and failed, according to a link at the article.

Laslo Spatula said...

Graffiti is like Bukkake: it is going to get wiped off.

I am Laslo.

clint said...

Best of luck to these graffiti artists in finding another landowner as generous as the one they are now trying to destroy.

Laslo Spatula said...

Re: my 8:23 post "Meres" is the tag name for Jonathan Cohen.

I am Laslo.

tim in vermont said...

So each and every one left contact information? I still can't believe we live in a world where the show 'Rent' could even be imagined.

But it sounds like the guy is a liberal, so him getting it good and hard is still funny.

CWJ said...

Even Trump is there in the final comment to Althouse's 2013 post on this subject.

CWJ said...

This had been going on for years. Could adverse possesion have been used by the artists? Perhaps crazy, but perhaps not as crazy as the law they're actually using.

LordSomber said...

"Artists": Find your own f*cking substrate.

The Cracker Emcee said...

He's reaping what he's sown. If he'd complained to the cops occasionally, he'd be in the clear.

The moral of the story is never give entitled Leftist fuckwads an inch.

Mike Sylwester said...

The artists scored an incremental legal victory on March 31 when Judge Frederic Block of Federal District Court in Brooklyn ruled that their case could have a jury trial.

This is what happens when a Scientific Progressive is allowed to become a so-called "federal judge".

Sebastian said...

"How can the artists can win this?" Somehow get the case into Dick Posner's court. He'll do whatever.

Laslo Spatula said...

Reading up on Cohen/Meres, it seems like he built himself a Little Kingdom: he controlled who got to paint, had approval for what they would paint, assigned the areas (some better than others) and designated how long murals would stay up.

The more famous graffiti artists were given the best conditions by him. Of course. King gets to anoint the chosen.

The problem is, if you don't own the land under your Castle you are not really the King.

I am Laslo.



Ann Althouse said...

"Even Trump is there in the final comment to Althouse's 2013 post on this subject."

Trump's name is in the post (and in the article I linked to).

Wilbur said...

Surely these "artists" would have no objection if I spray painted their residences, or their clothes, or their other property. After all, I consider it art.

Humperdink said...

The sharecroppers are taking over the land ..... er ....... building. Or what's left of it.
It's only fair.

The artists would be better served if Robert Mugabe could testify as an expert witness.

CWJ said...

"Trump's name is in the post (and in the article I linked to)."

Touche. But frankly, my interest in clicking through was only to scroll through to see who was commenting back then. The Trump reference at the end just sort of jumped out at me.

Truthavenger said...

The key phrase here is "against its owner, Jerry Wolkoff, who ordered the artwork destroyed...."

He is the property owner. He can do any damn thing he wishes to his own property.

Property rights are THE most important rights we have.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

The quote "they bit the hand that fed them" is a problematic admission. As the landlord admits he "fed" their graffiti painting, that takes it out of the category of vandalism.

But the statute in question has this curious wording: "the author of a work of visual art ... shall have the right ... to prevent any intentional distortion, mutilation, or other modification of that work which would be prejudicial to his or her honor or reputation, and any intentional distortion, mutilation, or modification of that work is a violation of that right".

So, statutory interpretation mavens, do the visual artists have to show the paint over was prejudicial to their honor or reputation? Or just that their sanctioned visual art was intentionally painted over?

Achilles said...

Time for loser pays legislation.

Birkel said...

@ Althouse
This is what the legal system has become. Were you so busy teaching the law that you didn't notice?

The labyrinth of laws that people have created are meant - purposefully designed - to make life harder for dispreferred groups. Democrats used to that sort of thing for one dispreferred group. Only the groups have changed.

Birkel said...

@ Left Bank

If the artists win, it means that in the future their art will be done under contract whereby the creators assign all rights to the property owner whose property they use.

The part you quoted (which contains an always dangerous ellipse) seems not to require reputational damage or a loss of honor.

rhhardin said...

So many of our artists are Canadian.

Birches said...

The fact that there is a law called the Visual Artists Rights Act seems to be the main problem here....

Chris N said...

Lesson: Don't feed.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Ok, so, I'm still not a lawyer, but:
Aside from the Visual Artists Rights Act itself (which I have not read) is the general theory that because the property owner allowed this art (or "art," I dunno) to stay on his property in the past that constituted adverse possession of the wall/the "art space" and therefore the artists--either these artists in particular or potential artists in general--gained a prescriptive easement to the space (for the purpose of displaying and maintaining their art)??

I mean, if so, imagine the incentive effect of a victory for the artists! Such a finding would mean that all property/wall owners would have to ban any painting/art forever, just to avoid being stuck in a situation like this. What are the property owner's court costs/lawyer fees, I wonder?!

Owen said...

This is truly wonderful. The phrase "You didn't build that" comes immediately to mind. And indeed Wolkoff did not build the building, he bought it, or he paid somebody to build it. So his property rights should not be normalized. What matters is Art. And the plaintiffs will be the judge of what that is, who gets to put it up, for how long, on whatever surface they can find.

Wolkoff and his building, like the rest of us, are just convenient surfaces on which they can express their art.

MayBee said...

They obviously can't remove the work without destroying the building, so that seems inoperative.

Birkel said...

@ Hoodlum Doodlum

My 10:03am post is the result. No art except that which specifically waves statutory protection under a signed contract.

Night Owl said...

'“They call it bombing, and the next artist goes over someone else’s work,” he said. “They painted over their own work continually, and it goes on for years."'

That immediately made me think of the Reddit "April Fools" experiment you showcased below. There's a point to made regarding that similarity, but I don't know what it is.

Bill Peschel said...

So I guess all of the graffiti artists filed 90-day notices to the artists whose works they painted over? Isn't that how it works?

I see more lawsuits coming, starting with "BAZ 3:12 vs RaT FinktZ."

Kirk Parker said...

Althouse,

Where's the Lawsuits I Hope Will Lose tag?

Steven said...

The key problem here is Victor Hugo and the French notion of "moral rights", which then got written into Berne and thus necessitated a law like VARA.

Kirk Parker said...

Steven,

What's "VARA"? Do you perhaps mean VAWA?

Beach Brutus said...

I'm guessing he tried the 501(c)(3) gambit to get the real estate taken off the tax roll and thereby substantially reduce the holding cost for the property. The whole owner assigns space, etc., detail was probably done in support of the 501(c)(3) effort to show active artistic management of the property rather than mere acquiescence in vandalism. Owners tax reduction efforts by inviting the graffiti artists in appear to be the source of their claim against him under the Visual Artists Rights Act. Of course I query under which of the enumerated powers that act falls.

The Godfather said...

So it seems there's this thing called "the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990", a FEDERAL law enacted in 1990 (so it was signed by Bush 41?), not some weird NYC ordinance. Does it really mean what the plaintiffs claim it means? I don't know. I'm a RETIRED lawyer, and I'm not going to analyze this statute and research the caselaw and legislative history; somebody's goin' get paid for doing that. But I'm not ready to say the trial judge should be impeached for not dismissing the case.

In DC, where I practiced for many years, the following occurred. The owner of some old townhouse-style apartments in a part of town that was getting more desirable, demolished them in order to build a new high-rise apartment or condo building. However, at about that time the market went south, and the owner put his development plans on the shelf. So he had this vacant lot. Some folks in the neighborhood came around and asked him if they could use the vacant land for little garden plots. He agreed and allowed them to use his property this way for no charge. Several years later, when the market had improved and the owner was ready to build the long-anticipated apartment building, all the folks who were using his land for their garden plots got together to oppose his plans. They delayed him for a couple of years and cost him several hundreds of thousands of dollars. After that, every DC landowner who was asked to accommodate some neighbors who wanted to use some vacant property, and knew about that story, said No way!

No good deed goes unpunished.

Kirk Parker said...

Godfather,

Indeed we will not be back to a decent equilibrium until grapeshot is considered a justifiable reply to lawfare.

The Godfather said...

@Kirk Parker: Weren't you known as Jefferson in a previous life? ("the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. it is it’s natural manure.")

Kirk Parker said...

Nope.

And fwiw Jefferson's quote there is badly misunderstood, and most often taken out of context.