Today was the first hearing of Jonathan ‘Meres’ Cohen VS G & M Realty, or as I have dubbed it, 5 Pointz vs The Man. Since the last time we spoke about 5Pointz, 16 national and international artists came together to file a lawsuit under the Visual Arts Rights Act (VARA) in order to preserve the works of art that they have considered invaluable. Held at Brooklyn Courthouse, I expected there to be picket signs attached to passionate bodies ready to fight The Man to the death. Truth was, there were at most 15 of us watching 5 Pointz fate unfold. I watched as a man with a suitcase filled with CCNY sit-in pamphlets wandered repeating “BANKSY’S SENDING HELP, BANKSY’S SENDING HELP!” in urgent tones. But it didn’t look like much help was coming.
It’s not a black and white situation. The 5 Pointz property very much belongs to David Wolkoff, who appointed Jonathan ‘Meres’ Cohen as curator in 2002, when it was known as ‘Fun House’ but wasn’t much fun to look at. A few conditions (no porn, no politics) were agreed on and before he knew it, Meres had control over what happened to the space we know today. Although he didn’t receive any compensation, Meres wasn’t fazed, “Freelance is how I make my living, but 5 Pointz is my passion”.
Ten years later, and hundreds of thousands of people and artists have left their mark on the space, giving 5 Pointz landmark status that most believe should be recognized. It was made very clear at the hearing that the artists are specifically looking to preserve 24 pieces that they believe to be invaluable works of art. The catch: they’re spread out throughout the building, making it more difficult for the Wolkoffs to do everything they intend to do to with the space. The defense was persnickety, with Wolkoff’s attorney quite clearly bullying Meres into admitting that he had claimed that ALL pieces were unique and intended for extended public display. “Is one day extended display? Two days? Does that mean that every piece in the building, all 11,000 must be preserved as recognized stature?” Judge Bloc was quick to defend Meres, saying “If the Last Supper was there, it would be an artwork of recognized stature.”
Danielle Mastrion, a Brooklyn artist who’s work is one of the many they hope to preserve, was itching to get on the stand and kick some ass. “What they don’t understand is the concept of public and mural art. The artist decides what is permanent. If Rembrandt crawled out of his grave tomorrow, walked into the Met and said ‘I want to paint over THAT’, the museum would say OK!”.
5Pointz has until November 12th before the restraining order against David Wolkoff gets lifted and cogs are set in motion. Taking a breather outside during court recess, Jonathan ‘Meres’ Cohen lifted his voice to his followers but more to The Man, “You’re killing a large part of our culture and not giving any alternative.” It seems like 5 Pointz have a few more tricks up their sleeves, applying for Landmark Preservation being one of them.
We’ll keep you posted on the developments. In the meantime, book yourself a tour and get fired up about saving a piece of the New York City we know to be true and unique. If you’re like me, you know those buildings up there aren’t what we’re about.
p.s. In perfect fashion, Banksy’s goodbye piece was in L.I.C., an inflatable ode to himself that was swiftly taken down by police. Banksy later updated his website with “And that’s it. Thanks for your patience. It’s been fun. Save 5Pointz. Bye.”