LONG ISLAND CITY — A group of 5Pointz artists are looking for compensation from the owners of the former Queens graffiti haven for suddenly painting over their works and robbing them of the opportunity to preserve them, according to a federal lawsuit filed earlier this month.
The unexpected paint job denied the plaintiffs — which includes street artists Maria "Toofly" Castillo and James Cochran — "a fair opportunity to remove and preserve their work," according to the suit, which was first reported by the New York Daily News.
"[The] plaintiffs incurred significant financial losses as a result of the wanton destruction of their valuable works of art," the suit reads, citing that the developer had violated the artists' property rights by destroying the work without their permission.
"This case will demonstrate that these cherished works of art must be protected under the fullest extent of the law," Eric Baum, an attorney for the street artists, said in a statement.
The suit, which seeks an unspecified amount in damages, cites the Visual Artists Rights Act, a federal law intended to "protect works of visual art," according to Baum.
He said the law also requires the owner of a property to give 90 days notice before removing works of art from a building.
"This case not only is brought on behalf of the plaintiffs, but it also sends a message to everyone that the unlawful destruction of artwork will not be tolerated," he said.
Street artists painted at 5Pointz for years with the property owners' blessing, turning the run down buildings on Jackson Avenue and Davis Street into a local attraction for tourists and art fans.
In 2013, G&M Realty — led by father and son Jerry and David Wolkoff — submitted plans to tear down the complex to make way for two residential high-rises, to the chagrin of the art community.
A month later, artists awoke to find much of the artwork at the property had been covered with white paint overnight by the owners, a move 5Pointz head curator Meres One called "the greatest art murder in history."
Demolition at the site wrapped up earlier this year, and G&M Realty is getting ready to start construction on the buildings, where they've promised to include 209 affordable units as well as studios and space for artists to paint.
In an interview Monday, owner David Wolkoff said he doesn't believe "there's much merit" to the artists' lawsuit.
"They painted on our building. We allowed them to paint on our building. They knew the buildings were coming down," he said, noting the decision to paint over the art was in part to prevent a confrontation when the wrecking ball came.
"It was to preserve the safety of everybody involved, and to avoid anymore pain in the future," he said. "It [would have] been torturous for them to watch the building come down."
Wolkoff said the art that was being done at 5Pointz was frequently being changed and painted over, so the the works were not intended to be permanent.
"That's the nature of the work, that it's here today, gone tomorrow," he said.
"Not to say that their work isn't great looking," he added. "That's why we're going to have the artists come back again."