Wednesday, November 20, 2013

5 Pointz: How I Was Wrong

by Dick Mac

I don't think anybody will ever accuse me of being an 'establishment' person, or an apologist for capitalists and developers.  So, it's with a certain amount of trepidation that I followed-up on this story, even though my delving deeper proved my initial reaction to be misguided.

There is actually a much better scenario that I hope will be seen by all and lead to a brighter outcome than anybody anticipated.

Jerry Wolkoff owns a warehouse in Long Island City, Queens, known as 5 Pointz.  For two decades, he has allowed graffiti artists to have their way with the five story structure, and they have done a magnificent job with it.

Photo by The Interrobang.  Used without permission.

This part of Queens never enjoyed a tourist trade, but in the past ten years or so, as 5 Pointz became internationally renowned, people from around the world have travelled by subway out to the neighborhood to see the landmark.

It has always been Wolkoff's plan to develop the site.  Eventually, the site was going to become a bank or a bank of luxury apartments, or some such destination that would preclude the beauty and the horror of graffiti.

That time has arrived.

Two towers will be built on the site.

This means the current structure must be removed.

Here is his dilemma:  he has enjoyed a good relationship with the artists and community, he loves the graffiti covered landmark, he wants to support this art form, and it's now time for him to remove the existing canvas.

  1. Just start demolition and watch it vanish bit by bit, or
  2. Destroy the existing canvas and move forward.
Wolkoff believed that it would be too painful to watch the masterpiece come down bit-by-bit, destroyed by demolition equipment.  He believes that the 'band-aid' approach would be best:  it will hurt less if we just rip it off all at once.

He knew, everyone knew, it would be a heart-breaking, gut-wrenching, no-winners process.

He hired the police as security, hired painters, and went to his building in the middle of the night to white wash it before the demolition starts.

People awoke to this:

Photo: Tamara Beckwith.  Used without permission.

Some who awoke to this felt betrayed, tricked, fooled.
Some are really angry.
Some live in resignation.
After all, we know it wouldn't last forever.
The internet filled with hate for Wolkoff.  Nobody remembered that his building was a free, safe canvas for two decades, through his largesse.  Nobody remembered that it was his love for the art form that led to the amazing piece of history known as 5 Pointz.  Nobody remembered that it was his property and he could do with it as he pleases.
People, especially some of the interested artists, were unkind.
I was unkind.
Explaining why he did the deed in the middle of the night, Wolkoff explained:
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. 

Further, Wolkoff goes on to explain:
In the new building we're going to let them come back, and it's going to be similar and better. They're upset with me now, but it's the right thing for both of us.
His new building will have a 60-foot wraparound wall for graffiti.

So, this ogre who has done this terrible thing is actually a pretty decent guy.  He's a developer.  He's going to make money developing his property.  He is a developer, unlike many, who is interested in his impact on the surroundings.  He loves graffiti. He has given much. And even if you need to get stuck on that which he has taken away, at least acknowledge that he is giving it back.

I jumped to a conclusion that was ill-informed and I now have a different feeling about 5 Pointz.  Yes, I am sad it is gone as we know it; but, in the face of progress, there is a man who wants to be certain the legacy is honored.

Instead of derision, I suspect some gratitude is called for.

Some links:


No comments: