A judge awarded $6.7 million Monday to graffiti artists who sued after dozens of their works were destroyed on the walls of dilapidated warehouses torn down to make room for high-rise luxury residences. US District Judge Frederic Block in Brooklyn said 45 of the 49 paintings were recognized works of art "wrongfully and willfully destroyed" by an "unrepentant" landlord. Twenty-one artists had sued the owner of a Long Island City, Queens, site known as 5Pointz under the Visual Artists Rights Act, a 1990 federal law that protects artists' rights even if someone else owns the physical artwork. Their graffiti was painted over in 2013, and the buildings were torn down a year later, reports the AP. Before they vanished, the graffiti became a tourist attraction, drawing thousands daily and forming a backdrop to the 2013 movie Now You See Me, as well as a site for an Usher tour, the judge noted.
All the while, the crime-ridden neighborhood gradually improved, and it became the "world's largest collection of quality outdoor aerosol art," Block wrote. The ruling followed a November trial in which Block said the "respectful, articulate, and credible" artists testified about "striking technical and artistic mastery and vision worthy of display in prominent museums if not on the walls of 5Pointz." Owner Jerry Wolkoff conceded he allowed the artists to use the buildings as a canvas for decades but said they always knew they would be torn down. The artists had once hoped to buy the properties, before their value soared to over $200 million. "Wolkoff could care less. As he callously testified," the judge said. "The sloppy, half-hearted nature of the whitewashing left the works easily visible under thin layers of cheap, white paint, reminding the plaintiffs on a daily basis what had happened."