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Street artists awarded millions in compensation after demolition of New York graffiti hotspot

The 5pointz graffiti art, seen here in 2011. Credit: AP

A New York court has upheld a $6.7 milion (£5.2 million) award to nearly two dozen graffiti artists whose paintings were destroyed to make room for high-rise luxury apartments.

The 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals held up a decision that developers who destroyed the aerosol artworks in 2013 violated the Visual Artists Right Act of 1990, which protects art which has gained recognition.

"In recent years, 'street art', much of which is 'temporary', has emerged as a major category of contemporary art," the court said.

"A Banksy painting... would have possessed recognised stature, even if it were temporary."

A restoration worker cleans a Banksy artwork in London. Credit: PA

The graffiti site at Long Island City, Queens - known as '5Pointz' - had become a tourist attraction that drew thousands of spectators and had even formed the backdrop to the 2013 film, 'Now You See Me'.

More than 10,000 works of art were painted on the walls of '5Pointz' since 2002, with much of the art being repainted over multiple times with permission of the original artist.

The 5Pointz building as it appeared in 2013. Credit: Google

In 2013, developers seeing to capitalise on the rebirth of a once crime-ridden neighbourhood destroyed the artwork after banning artists from the area and refusing to let them recover work that would be removed.

The building was fully demolished by 2014 and construction began in 2015 on an apartment complex with 1,115 units expected to be completed in 2020.

  • The '5Pointz' building appeared in the 2013 film 'Now You See Me'.

After artists sued, US District Judge Frederic Block in Brooklyn concluded the art works reflected “striking technical and artistic mastery and vision worthy of display in prominent museums if not on the walls of 5Pointz”.

The judge made the award higher than it otherwise would have been after concluding the destruction of the art was wilful because the artists were not given the three months the law allows to salvage their artwork.

Marie Cecile Flageul, a curator who worked with the 21 artists who will share the award, said the money would be split amongst artists in the US, Australia, Japan, Brazil and Colombia.

The 5Pointz site in 2018. Credit: Google

Flageul said the appeals ruling demonstrates how far street art has come from the 1970s when many artists used it to express their anger.

“Now, it’s a validated art form which is collected, acquired and showcased in museums and galleries around the world,” she said.

She said real estate entities in New York, Paris and London now look for ways to preserve graffiti art.

In a statement, lawyer Eric Baum said the artists were “thankful and humbled by today’s ruling”, which he called a “clear indication these Artists’ work is important and should be respected”.

A lawyer for the developers declined comment.