By: Daniel Hodgman
It has taken several weeks, but after a long battle in court, a federal judge has declared and refused to issue an injunction against the land owners of 5 Pointz that would have prevented them from bulldozing a graffiti mecca in order to build luxury high-rises. Last night, a whitewash went up, and nearly 30 years of New York City’s most prominent graffiti art was destroyed.
The 5 Pointz Art Center, which is named as such because it’s a symbol for NYC’s five boroughs coming together, was an outdoor art exhibit in Queens, which is often cited as the world’s premier collection of graffiti art. Covering over 200,000 sq. feet of factory walls, 5 Pointz was a beacon for graf artists, global murals and it was a New York City staple. Most importantly however, it was one of the strongest beacons for hip-hop.
First established in 1993 by Pat DeLillo, the factory complex was used to display graffiti and graf artists’ works in a formal setting. It was set up to discourage vandalism and illegal street art, and by 2002 the complex was being curated by Meres who accepted works and murals based on applications. In essence, 5 Pointz was a way for graf artists and taggers to come together and form a community through art and messages.
However, after failing to provide necessary permits for the deteriorating warehouse, and failing to prevent any sort of action to dismantle the artistic mecca, 5 Pointz organizers lost a crucial battle and the New York City Planning Commission unanimously voted to build condos in its location. On November 19th, the warehouse’s walls were washed with white paint, ominously symbolizing the eventual destruction of the 5 Pointz complex mural. With one swift motion in the dead of night, owners of the land painted the walls white with police protection. By morning, realization hit New York City. And by the afternoon, the hip-hop world mourned the loss of one of its biggest symbols of hope.
The destruction of 5 Pointz’ art and the eventual destruction of the complex represents many things.
For one, it’s a clear-cut case of governmental greed and gentrification against the artists and the people. It’s important to note that in America gentrification is happening, and cities will continue this practice to boost their economy, but the symbolism behind destroying one of the greatest hip-hop meccas in the world in order to build luxury condos casts a dark cloud over the city’s community as a whole. What 5 Pointz could have been, and what it has been, is a museum, a visual landscape of freedom, empowerment, individualism, resistance and collaboration. It could have stood as a light not only for the hip-hop community, but for America as a whole and what red, white and blue truly represents: freedom. The sad truth however is that the government had other plans. Instead of preserving an icon, officials decided to let their lust for greed and oppression plow down expression and individual freedom.
Another point that must be stated is that hip-hop art, and in this case graffiti, is a representation of visible messages and a voice from an otherwise invisible community shrouded by oppression. As a mural and global message for all of hip-hop, 5 Pointz was another key facet in conveying a sense of worth, resistance and importance. By destroying this work of art, there’s a feeling that city officials and the government are willingly able to destroy other forms of art as well. Like the 5 Pointz story, you can point to the city officials of Detroit and how they’ve pondered the idea of selling art from the Detroit Institute of Art as a similar story. If we continue to see art as a whole slowly being taken away from our community, what else is the government bound to take?
The death of 5 Pointz is tragic because of all the symbolism surrounding it. As a communal gathering for hip-hop, it stood as a haven for art, storytelling and conveying messages in a way that took illegal vandalism out of the equation. It also was a symbol for NYC as a whole. On the other end of things, the dismantling of 5 Pointz represents the continuing negative effects of gentrification. It glorifies the pushing out of a certain class, and it shows how gentrification as a whole strips a city of its cultural value. Furthermore, this action against Meres and the complex is simply a facade hiding the true agenda: corporate greed and governmental control.
It has been stated that officials have declared that the new condos will have designated areas for Meres and his organization to showcase their graffiti, and with this, what should happen is a full-out revival of what once was. If there’s anything graf artists in the hip-hop community should do, it would be to take full advantage of this proposition and continue the inspiring art of hip-hop graffiti. To fight oppression, you need to continually express your messages, and that’s exactly what I feel graf artists are going to do.