NYC: 5Pointz building owner must pay graffiti artists

To quote John K. Ross’s summary for Short Circuit:

In 2002, owner of dilapidated industrial property in Queens, N.Y. entrusts its care to a group of artists, who improve its condition and cover it in graffiti, turning it into a tourist attraction and cultural site. In 2013, the owner, who plans to demolish the warehouses and build luxury condos, whitewashes over the art. District court: Which violated the Visual Artists Rights Act; pay $6.75 mil in damages to 21 artists. If the owner had waited a few more months while he got his building permits in order, he’d have been assessed a far more modest penalty.

More: Alan Feuer, New York Times, ABA Journal. More on the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 here.


  • Your understated just-the-facts-ma’am report, with link to “more on VARA”, does far more justice to the controversy than most reporting I’ve seen.

    My perception is that those who were itching to enshrine “moral rights” of artists into US law had very little concept of the perverse incentives they were setting up.

    VARA “worked out well” for the artists in this case, but for many of them the foreseeable consequence of this award’s notoriety will spell the end of their muraling career.

  • The $6.7 million apparently was an acceptable cost of doing business for a $200 million project, to avert the risk that the artists could sue and get their work declared an unchangeable monument. I would have preferred that the building owner wait a few months (when as the court pointed out he lacked the permits anyways), giving the artists a few weeks or months to relocate their work. But did the developer have a rational fear that the graffiti could delay his project in court for expensive months or even years?