Graffiti Artists in Queens Sue Under VARA
This month, nine graffiti artists filed suit in federal court under the Visual Artists Rights Act (“VARA”) against developer Jerry Wolkoff, the owner of the 5Pointz site in Long Island City, Queens, for damages caused by the destruction of their artwork when the site was whitewashed without notice in 2013. The artists claim that because they were not granted notice, they were unable to retrieve and preserve their work. Wolkoff had allowed graffiti artists to create work on the interior and exterior of the property for many years; this work transformed the neighborhood into a tourist attraction, increasing its value as a development site. They initially sued Wolkoff for an injunction in 2013 following his announcement that the buildings would be demolished, and while Brooklyn Judge Frederic Block recognized the artistic value of the graffiti, some of which may have qualified for legal protection under VARA, the building owners’ rights prevailed. The new suit claims the whitewashing was “entirely gratuitous and unnecessary” given the slated demolition, and that the artists were entitled to written notice and a 90-day period to remove their artwork. More than 350 works of visual art adorned the site, inside and out, at the time of destruction.
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