Graffiti Mecca is White-Washed from History

By Derek Obregon

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Posted November 21, 2013 in Web Only
5Pointz 1There was once a place where the spray cans flowed freely and the cops wouldn’t bother the aerosol artists who thrived there. It was called 5 Pointz: the Institute of Higher Burning, and it was a safe-haven, thanks to founder Jonathan “Meres One” Cohen. Since 2002, he dedicated his time, energy and personal funds to manage 200,000 square-feet of ever-changing graffiti on the warehouse walls located in Long Island City, New York. It was ground zero for anyone fascinated by street art. But sadly . . . it’s now gone.

Literally overnight the owner of the building whitewashed all the brobdingnagian bubble letters, colorful cartoons and meticulously thoughtful images that once grabbed people’s attention.

“The fact that they destroyed the art before they razed the building, it’s a really big slap in the face,” said Eric Felisbert, an expert on street art and the author of “Graffiti New York.” The work of at least 1,500 different artists is now lost forever.

This world renowned “graffiti Mecca” got its name from the five boroughs that come together as one there. But beyond the local factor, thousands of artists from around the globe made a pilgrimage to make their mark, one spray can at a time.

Cope2, an internationally recognized street artist is just one of the many to have graced the building with his presence. The artist has also given the streets of Los Angeles some love by participating in Lahoda’s LA Freewalls program, an attempt to revitalize LA’s coined term in the art world, “mural capital.”

5 Pointz has held deep roots in the graffiti community because its walls were covered with art made by the artists who sometimes lived and worked there. On any given day, you could find prominent artists, musicians, DJs, rappers, B-boys, filmmakers and photographers on site.

The artists were trying to get the building landmark status before it was demolished, but they were denied. Building owner Jerry Wolkoff, got permission to tear down the existing building and thought it was best to rip off the band-aid completely and white-wash it, instead of slowly peel it away and watch the art crumble piece by piece.

“I am telling you, I did not like what they did—I loved what they did,” Wolkoff said.

That’s hard to believe given the circumstances. But if there’s a silver lining to this story, it’s that there will be 60-foot walls raised outside of the new buildings so that history can be re-created.

Bringing it home to beautiful Los Angeles, the city has had similar issues with private buildings and street art. However, now artists can legally put murals on sides of stores, offices, apartment duplexes and other privately owned properties under a new Los Angeles law that was approved last August, ending an 11-year ban on street art.

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Although differences apply when looking at graffiti and murals, it looks like the Inland Empire’s neighboring metropolitan will begin to build back its own five points for street art soon enough. In fact, even artists like Shepard Fairey, the man responsible for the ever-recognizable “Hope” poster featured in President Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential election campaign, has spoken out about building back up LA’s street-art scene. As part of the LA Freewalls program Cope2 has worked with, Fairey put up a hand-sprayed stencil of Ronald Reagan on a building in the city’s downtown district.

The infamous British street artist Banksy, who has received mainstream recognition along with Fairey for his clever street art and who has various mural projects around Los Angeles, gave his final message to New York in October in the New York Times: “Save 5Pointz.” And with the new walls going up, it does feel like the history can somehow recover.

However, New York’s 5 Pointz, like LA’s mural capital, just won’t be the same because of the years of pride, tradition and international symbol for graffiti that has suffered the same fate as its illegal cousins; white-washing. So the next time you’re walking around and you see some graffiti on the wall, take a minute to look at the art that will always be covered up, but never silenced.


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