Artists, residents grapple with potential 5Pointz demolition

October 28, 2013

Justin Lanier for WSN

As aerosol artists continue their fight to stop the demolition of 5Pointz, the graffiti mecca and art center in Long Island City, Queens, the 10-day restraining order on the owners of the 5Pointz property and developers G&M Realty ends today, Oct. 28.

Queens Borough President Helen M. Marshall approved the developers’ $400 million plan in early October to build two apartment buildings on the site. Since then, Jonathan Cohen, 5Pointz curator, and 16 other artists filed a lawsuit against the preparation for the construction project. The artists won the restraining order that prevented the developers from continuing demolition preparation but also forbid any painting.

The artists hoped to use the time to prove that demolishing the building violates the Visual Rights Act of 1990 and to gain an injunction against G&M Realty. However, 5Pointz would not comment on the lawsuit or what they plan to do after the restraining order is lifted.

Jarek Szczesny, a Pennsylvania resident and artist who has been visiting Queens to paint on the building for the past five years, said he visited the site last weekend but was not allowed to paint.

Szczesny said destroying the cultural landmark would be detrimental to the neighborhood and it is the only reason he frequents Queens.

“That’s the only [attraction] you have in Queens,” Szczesny said. “What else do you have?”

Gallatin sophomore Catherine Schmitz, who has been researching 5Pointz for a class, explained that the owners of the building have the final say in the demolition.

Justin Lanier for WSN

“For a while, [the artists] tried to get it landmarked so the owner couldn’t touch the property and he would essentially be bought out,” Schmitz said. “But the problem is that once you landmark something, you can’t change it. So in the process of protecting it, you would also be killing 5Pointz.”

Schmitz said change is part of the purpose of 5Pointz, as artists are always painting over work from previous artists.

According to a Queen’s Courier article, the developers said the construction will bring more than 1,000 jobs to Long Island City and increase affordable housing units from 75 to 210. However, some members of the community emphasized the negative impacts of demolition.

Jackson Heights residents Paula and Jim Noone donated their black, early ’90s Oldsmobile Cutlass to 5Pointz as a symbol of protest against the developers. Cohen painted the car with 5Pointz’s emblem to advertise the location’s fight for survival.

“It’s a subversive art form that has been wiped from the streets,” Jim Noone said. “Where better to have a museum for street art than on the street?”

But Szeny said losing 5Pointz could result in an increase in vandalism, as 5Pointz is the only place people can legally paint graffiti.

“We don’t want [to be] known as vandalists,” Szczesny said. We just want to be known as artists.”

*A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled Jarek Szczesny’s name. WSN regrets this error.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Oct. 28 print edition. Additional reporting by Mimi McCann. Nicole Brown is a news editor. Kevin Burns is a deputy news editor. Email them at news@nyunews.com.  

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