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5Pointz Artists Headed to Trial Over Whitewashed Graffiti

 Tourists at graffiti arts center 5Pointz in Long Island City before it was torn down.
Tourists at graffiti arts center 5Pointz in Long Island City before it was torn down.
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DNAinfo/Jeanmarie Evelly

LONG ISLAND CITY — The graffiti artists whose works were painted over at the former 5Pointz site four years ago are headed to court to determine if they're entitled to compensation for the destroyed street art.

A Brooklyn federal judge ruled late last month that the artists, who filed a lawsuit against developer G&M Realty in 2013, can proceed to trial in their case — allowing a jury to decide if their whitewashed works are protected under a federal law called the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA), legal news site Law360 first reported.

In order to seek monetary damages under VARA, the artists will need to prove that their works were of "recognized stature," according to Judge Frederic Block. Though an exact date has not been set, the trial is expected to take place sometime in May, court documents show.

The ruling is the latest in a years-long battle between G&M Realty, who owned the now-demolished warehouses on Jackson Avenue and Davis Street, and the 5Pointz artists who painted there for years with the owners' blessing, turning the property into an outdoor art gallery and tourist attraction.

In 2013, G&M Realty — helmed by father-and-son owners Jerry and David Wolkoff — moved ahead with plans to tear down the graffiti-covered complex in order to build two luxury apartment buildings at the site.

The artists sued, unsuccessfully, to block the demolition. Then months before the dismantling began, the Wolkoffs abruptly painted over the artists' work during the night, a move that 5Pointz founder Jonathan Cohen called "the greatest art murder in history."

Attorneys for both 5Pointz and G&M Realty did not immediately return calls seeking comment Monday.

A lawyer for the artists, Eric Baum, told DNAinfo New York in 2015 that the group was denied the opportunity to preserve their works before they were painted over, and "incurred significant financial losses as a result of the wanton destruction of their valuable works of art."

The buildings' owners had previously argued that the street art was never intended to be permanent.

"They painted on our building. We allowed them to paint on our building. They knew the buildings were coming down," David Wolkoff told DNAinfo in 2015.

G&M Realty is currently constructing its two new towers at the former 5Pointz site, which are slated to include about a thousand apartments, as well as space for artists' studios and gallery space. 

The Wolkoffs have said that they plan to call the new development by the 5Pointz name.