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5Pointz is coming down and it's a shame
5Pointz probably won't be around much longer. In case you haven't heard, one of New York's finest art installments may be coming down for the sake of urban expansion: two 30 story apartment buildings in an increasingly hip neighborhood. And such seems to be the story in ever expanding cities like New York. What is good is not synonymous with what has longevity. Without generating a profit up to par with profit potential, certain things in New York, even landmarks, take a backseat to business. But this case is exceptional. This building, 5Pointz, is a work of art--one that should be preserved with the same respect we preserve all other great works of art. The problem is this: 5Pointz isn't like other art.
5Pointz is a graffiti-clad building with a rotating roster of artists whose work is on display. Located in Long Island City, 5Pointz wasn't far away from the Astoria apartment where I spent 7 years. I stumbled across the building the first time probably the same way many people do. I was riding the 7 train and I noticed a towering warehouse, vividly colorful against the drab skyline on what I remember to be a rather drab day. I seized the opportunity the next time I was in the neighborhood of the 7 train to exit, follow the overhead tracks, and find the building. To my surprise, there were a dozen or so other people there when I arrived, seeming just as curious as I was. They were taking photos and standing in awe of giant portraits. As I walked the perimeter of 5Pointz and passed by other admirers, I found myself speaking in a hushed voice just like everyone else there, just like I would in a museum. Clearly, there was something to be respected on the walls of 5Pointz.
When I went back to 5Pointz the second time, I brought a friend with me. I expected to show her the same art on the walls I had seen the first time. Instead, it was all different. I soon learned that 5Pointz's art is revolving art, that each piece of artwork that was ever painted on a wall of 5Pointz was intended to not last forever, but instead, perhaps, just a few weeks. I began taking all of my visiting friends to 5Pointz, looking forward to their respective visits since they marked my calendar with visits to 5Pointz. The art changed every time I walked around the building, and I walked around that building many times.
After spending 8 years in New York, I left the city with a fondness for 5Pointz no less tender than that first visit to 5Pointz. Any time someone visiting the city has asked me for off-the-beaten-path suggestions of what to do in New York, even now that I am living in Austin, I have instructed them to visit 5Pointz. I have told them which stop to get off the 7 train at, I have told them to just follow the overhead tracks. My father, my sister, my brother, my best friends... I took them all to that building. I even had a photo shoot there with my old band. And it really breaks my heart that others may now not receive the same opportunity we all had--the opportunity to experience 5Pointz.
The building's owner, a Mr. Wolkoff, seems to appreciate art, but not enough to preserve this monumental landmark. A recent New York Times piece discussing the building's fate reported that Wolkoff is willing to give the graffiti artists who call 5Pointz home a "rear wall" on the new structure. And, of course, a rear wall will never replace this positively special place, because the essence of 5Pointz is contained on that particular building, not a shining new structure. But Wolkoff is 74 years old. Preserving an old spray painted building certainly wouldn't be the traditional thing to do, that is, so long as spray paint is considered an unbecoming art medium. But that's the entire problem with this situation.
Spray paint, unfortunately for spray paint artists' and art appreciators' sake, is associated with vandalism, gang signs, and huffing. But does that affect the paint's credibility as a viable art medium? Of course it doesn't, but it certainly affects the perception the public has of the art medium. And so, consequently, a Facebook page dedicated to saving 5Pointz only has 1,171 likes (meanwhile, "Making up nicknames for people you don't know but see all the time" has 1,494,837 likes). A petition circling around online to save 5Pointz has 11,000 signatures. How many signatures would that petition have if it were arguing to keep a publicly treasured oil painting from being destroyed? More, I'd bet.
All in all, the news of 5Pointz's grim fate has upset me. Perhaps nothing will sway the minds of Wolkoff and the members of the Community Board. After all, history repeats itself and, after all, good things don't seem to last in New York (remember CBGB?). But there are two things that I can do, small as they might be:
1. I urge you to visit 5Pointz while it's still open. This About.com page contains good directions on how to get there.
2. Allow me to share some of the photos I have from my personal trips to 5Pointz with you.