NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The famous Queens graffiti mecca known as “5 Pointz” is no more.
The graffiti-covered walls at the brick warehouse in Long Island City were whitewashed overnight by the owner.
“They call us vandals and hoodlums — I think it’s quite the opposite in this case,” said curator Jonathon Cohen, who believes the hasty paint job was in response to their request for landmark status.
Artist Marie Cecile Flageul said building owner Jerry Wolkoff committed “murder” and “genocide” by painting over the artwork, 1010 WINS’ Al Jones reported.
“Just like Nero owned Rome and set it on fire, he decided to disrespect over a thousand artists today,” Flageul told WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman. “I knew he was going to do it.”
“Jerry Wolkoff told me at City Council that if he had had any indication that Landmarking was taking us seriously, he would paint the building overnight. So that’s one promise he kept,” Flageul added.
For the past 20 years, graffiti artists have been allowed to use the building as a canvas, but last month the owner got the city’s permission to tear 5 Pointz down and build 800 luxury condos and 200 affordable units.
The $400 million redevelopment project will include a new public park, over 50,000 square feet of retail space and a 250 space public parking garage.
Council Member James Van Bramer had said there would be a continued commitment to the arts in the building.
He said the owners agreed to increase the amount of artists’ studio and gallery space and offer Cohen to curate the nearly 10,000 square feet of art panels and walls in the building.
On Tuesday, many who stopped by the site were shocked and saddened to see that the buildings had been wiped clean.
“I love the pictures,” one man said. “Why did they take it away? I hate the white. The white’s gotta go.”
Some at the site leveled their comments directly at the developer.
“You’re a coward,” Cohen told Silverman.
“He’s getting rid of the artists in the most crude way he can and getting his way,” 5 Pointz fan Christopher Calderhead said. “It’s the death of a real cultural institution in the city and there doesn’t seem to be any room for this kind of art anymore.”
But Wolkoff said Tuesday afternoon that the move was not done maliciously.
“I’m never going to say anything bad about them. Why would I allow it to go on for close to 20 years if I didn’t not only like but love the work that they do? The last thing I would want them to do is get arrested while I’m painting the building, their emotions would run over. I felt if I did it in the morning, it would get over with,” Wolkoff told Silverman.
He said the overnight paint job was done in an effort to avoid confrontation.
“I can just picture the building coming down one piece at a time. It would be torture for me and it would torture for them.” Wolkoff said. “It’s like a Band-Aid, I just felt, one shot.”
Supporters are expected to hold a candlelight vigil Tuesday night.
Last month, artists filed a lawsuit claiming that their work was protected under an obscure federal law — The Visual Artists Rights Act, but last week a judge refused to grant an injunction that would have stopped demolition.
The warehouse is expected to be demolished by the end of the year.
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