While NYC is home to some of the country’s best museums and top tier tours (and that Sex in the City one), you’ll be hard pressed to find a more offbeat excursion than a visit to Long Island City’s 5Pointz Aerosol Art Center . The towering graffiti mecca features the work of thousands of street artists and serves as one of the few remaining places where people can spray to their hearts’ content without fearing criminal retribution (or simply being painted over, a fate even Banksy couldn’t escape). Sadly, “the man” has deemed Long Island City due for another high-rise apartment complex, and the building housing 5Pointz is scheduled for demolition by the end of the year.
“I love the work and it’s going to tear my heart out to see it torn down, but as a judge I have to apply the law,” said Federal Judge Frederic Block, before refusing to grant an injunction against razing the building. But 5Pointz founder Meres One—a Flushing native who first started dabbling in graffiti at age 13—isn’t giving up hope. This past Saturday, he organized a Save 5Pointz rally to gather signatures, with hundreds of people flocking to Jackson Avenue to show their support for the building and its 200,000 square feet of graffiti covered surfaces—the largest aerosol exhibit space in the country.
While many were on-hand to say their goodbyes, Meres One (a.k.a. Jonathan Cohen) attempted to gather signatures on NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission “Request for Evaluation Forms.” A pending application for landmark status would be grounds for a stay of injunction, Judge Block said, but a previous application for the building was rejected in August, making it an unlikely prospect.
The warehouse – originally built to be a water plant in 1904 – has served as a canvas for artists around the world for more than two decades. Unfortunately, it’s still a decade shy of the 30 years necessary for eligibility to become a landmark. But as one attendee mentioned, “it took seven applications for Grand Central to be considered,” and 5Pointz has become an international icon in its two decades. Writers from as far as Japan and the Netherlands have left their aerosol mark on the building, which has attracted music stars such as Joan Jett, Doug E. Fresh and Joss Stone to its 350 Technicolor murals.
In an act of good faith, building owner David Wolkoff—who has been allowing artists to use the building for graffiti—made some concessions in an effort to drum up support for the two new apartment projects. In addition to 210 affordable units, the development will feature 12,000 feet of artist and gallery space, and also give Cohen the opportunity to curate 10,000 square feet of art panels and walls inside. But with only five percent of the space he’s accustomed to curating and countless legendary works being sacrificed in the process, Cohen will continue to fight against what he considers a detrimental change to New York City. “It’s another example of gentrifying the city,” he says. “It’s getting rid of the few things in New York that are available, that are free, that are for the people, by the people.”
People can still sign the landmark petition on 5Pointz website, and visit the popular spot before its likely demise. Oftentimes, street artists can be spotted adding to the building (each new addition is approved by Cohen), where pieces can stay up for anywhere from one day to two years. Current highlights include a highly artistic purple number of various creatures swallowing each other from Switzerland artist Onur Dinc (located on the right side of the building), a blue piece of a bull with a lady in his arms by Brooklyn-based Esteban del Valle (also on the right), and the faded pink “Child” tag (on one of the walls in the rear square), one of the oldest pieces on the building. Better yet, sign up for a tour and Cohen will guide you around the building, share its history and ties to musical royalty and demonstrate the art. After all, these next few months might be your last chance to experience a street art legend before it’s gone forever.