Being an artist is very difficult, to this a can attest. But since the dawn of time, since our earliest ancestors painted stories inside of caves, art has been the single most powerful spiritual and emotional semantic of mankind. Art is revered by all people across the globe so much so that multimillion dollar institutions are built to house art – galleries for paintings, sculptures, drawings and photographs, cinemas for film, concert halls and auditoriums for music and theatres for live performance.
One of the drawbacks however of these institutions is that they often monopolize art. They add a price tag to a priceless entity, most often by way of an entrance fee and thus put a barrier between the masses and the art. Because let’s face it, not everyone has the financial means to not only travel to these institutions that are spread across the globe but also pay to for admission that can cost upwards of one week’s worth of groceries. Thus, the literal and proverbial velvet rope sends out a message: this art is too good for you, which is exactly the opposite of what art intends to do – unite mankind through a collective conscious.
I remember in art school professors acutely explaining this concept to us and urging us to rage against the machine by coming up with innovative ideas to bring our art to the masses that didn’t include galleries or museums. This meant more than renting out a space with our colleagues to display our work because that too would be considered private. No, we were encourage to display out work out in the open world so that all passers by had an opportunity to see what we had created for them.That’s what 5 Pointz: The Institute of Higher Burnin’ in Long Island City, Queens is. Was.
In 1993, Pat DiLillo first established the complex as the Phun Phactory and created a program called Graffiti Terminators which was meant to prevent grafitti vandalism by providing artists with a platform to formally showcase their work. Fast forward to 2002, Jonathan Cohen, better know under his tag name Meres began to curate the work by asking artists to submit layouts and samples. 5 Pointz has attracted artists from all over the world some of which included legends like Stay High 149 and Tracy 168 of the Wildstyle technique. Hip hop artists also flocked to 5 Pointz to use the iconic imagery in music videos and interviews.
Twenty years of our history has been carefully, painstakingly and joyously painted on those walls in a style that is almost entirely rooted in hip hop. The wall served as a graffiti mecca and united the five boroughs in the most optimal way possible.
Well, last night, 20 years years of 5 Pointz’ powerful and vibrate history was desecrated in the form of white paint that covered those beautiful murals and tags like an unholy ghost. Jerry Wolkoff, the developer who owns the property did so under the protection of NYPD. The complex is scheduled to be torn down this year to make way for a $400 million residential project that will displace hundreds of artists who live there and pay the below-market rents for studio space. What will be erected in its place will include two residential towers, retail space and “afforadable housing” – whatever that means.
Now, I get that New York real estate is a vicious game in which developers and brokers are constantly vying for prime geographical locale that they can sell to the highest bidder. However New York City is a place that was built on a truly unique culture that is fueled by art. Here I was thinking that “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of a City” was just a song but alas, turning 5 Pointz into a culture landmark is a feat that we can no longer hope to achieve. My only question is why paint over the graffiti long before the buildings are slated to be demolished?
One answer I read online stated that apparently artists could take Wolkoff to court and sue him over destruction of intellectual property, so he beat them to the punch. A searing gesture of corporate greed and capitalist indifference where the everyday person never really has the opportunity to flourish and excel.
The destruction of 5 Pointz is about so much more than money and profit and what property belongs to whom. It is the slaughter of a public space by a private person. Imagine that all the beautiful public spaces we enjoy like parks, playgrounds, forests, hell even libraries and community centres are bought up by millionaires and demolished so that they can build properties that will solely benefit them. Then what? Where will you go to escape the drudges of work and the confines of your home? This is so much more than “entitled millennial hipsters complaining about no longer having a space to entertain their vandalism” – an actual quote I read online. This is about a message being sent out to the word: our public art spaces are in danger of being obliterated. Hip hop culture is in danger of complete privatization for profit and annihilation of the heroes who pioneered it.
Apparently, the new property built will included facades that are meant to be used for curated graffiti. My question is how can you wreck priceless art and cultural antiquity for a mere $400 million dollars?
We must protect hip hop culture. We must preserve our history. We must fight back.
[Protests have begun with light writing.]