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5Pointz Artists Sue Over Defacement of Work

BROOKLYN (CN) - Nine artists whose spray-paint artwork at the "Graffiti Mecca" known as 5Pointz in Long Island City was whitewashed to make way for a residential development have filed a federal lawsuit for punitive damages.

It been just over 18 months since a property owner used "the cover of night" to mutilate what had for years transformed Long Island City "from a virtual wasteland into an attractive place for residential development," the June 3 complaint states.

The artist-plaintiffs, led by Maria Castillo of Sunnyside, Queens, say they had free reign of 5Poinz through a 1993 deal with property owner Gerald Wolkoff.

There were three conditions - no politics, no religion, no sex - and the artists otherwise worked for free while retaining the copyrights of their work, the complaint alleges.

Castillo notes that Wolkoff made one of the artists, Jonathan Cohen, the curator of 5Pointz back in 2002, giving him an office in 2002 and leave to commission works from others.

When Wolkoff sold the buildings to make way for a housing development, Cohen faced an eviction proceeding and fired back with a federal complaint in October 2013.

Castillo says Cohen reached a settlement with G&M Realty that required him to vacate by Nov. 30.

With no warning about the property owners' plans to demolish the structure, the artists said they "had no reason to believe their access to their artwork could or would be interfered with before" that Nov. 30 vacate date.

The court ruled on the artists' motion for an injunction on Nov. 20, but the property owners acted the night before to obliterate the art.

Contending that "the whitewashing was entirely gratuitous and unnecessary," the artists say that the defendants "were far from ready to demolish the buildings in question."

The whitewashing was done in a "disgracefully crude, unprofessional manner which was clearly calculated to cause maximum indignity and shame to plaintiffs," according to the complaint. "White paint was slapped onto the artwork in a haphazard fashion, and some parts of the artwork were left visible."

A "smiley face" in white paint even obscured some of the artwork.

"The result is the replacement of something beautiful with something profoundly ugly," the complaint states.

Castillo and the other artists, hailing from other parts of New York, as well as London, Germany, North Carolina and South Carolina, say they "now seek compensation for their devastating losses.

Wolkoff waved off the allegations.

"I don't think there's any validity to this," Wolkoff said in an interview. "I can't stop anybody from suing."

Before its destruction, artists came from around the world to be featured there, and "Graffiti Mecca" was the site of several photo shoots, films, music videos and television shows.

With the Museum of Modern Art's P.S. 1 site just across the street, visitors were "inexorably drawn" to check out the more than 350 works at 5Pointz. Subway passengers on the 7 train also saw the artwork on their daily commute.

In addition to G&M and Wolkoff, the artists named 22-50 Jackson Avenue Owners LP; 22-52 Jackson Avenue LLC and ACD Citiview Buildings LLC as defendants.

The artists are represented by Eric Baum with Eisenberg & Baum in Manhattan.

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