Sometimes I’ll read an article or blog post bemoaning the gradually dissappearing ‘edginess’ of New York City. Most of the time, I don’t take such pieces too seriously since they, more often than not, equate crime, dirtiness or silliness like Off Track Betting with the character that is being lost, while informal institutions of art and culture fall to the wayside with little or no protest. Now, I’m not talking about protesting new archways or paneling of a building that still maintains its original use or theme. Many times, those protesting such changes don’t really know or understand why they are doing so, and they get caught up in the small details at the expense of the big picture.
Every now and then, however, there comes a time when it is wholly justified to stand in the way of forces that threaten a significant cultural center, even if said center isn’t very well known. Which is why I’m dismayed, though not very surprised, at the lack of writers, activists and media outlets coming to the defense of one of the very institutions I speak of, whose very existence is now at stake.
5 Pointz in Long Island City is widely considered to be one of the world’s great standing street art and graffiti exhibitions, providing artists with space on the outer walls of a 200,000 square foot factory building and fairly priced studio space within the building itself. Founded in 1993 as the Phun Factory, the purpose of using this particular building was to encourage street artists to showcase their work in a formal, legal setting and expand the scope of their work. Today, it is known worldwide as one of the greatest havens for graffiti artists to create their work, and it costs nothing to enjoy the final product – you can see much the art from the 7-train as it leaves Queens Plaza.
Along with other such spaces, street artists and events, 5 Pointz can be partly credited with transforming what was once considered to be a lower form of art (if at all), limited to the inner city and done illegally, into a medium that can you can now place a bid on at Christie’s and other auction houses. All you need to do to see how far street art has come is watch Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop, a documentary about the complete absurdity of the art world viewed through the lens of street art.
As contemporary visual art spaces go, 5 Pointz is second to none, offering a unique perspective into this still emerging mainstream artform. People were creating art there at the Phun Factory when no one else cared to even make the trip to LIC to see it. Now that the area is primo real estate, as young professionals are priced out of Brooklyn and Manhattan, the owner of the space, developer Jerry Wolkoff, who has himself called 5 Pointz a ‘great place,’ is seeking to redevelop the property. His $350 million plan includes residential buildings in place of the 200 studios presently there and commercial space in place of the walls these artists have used as their canvass for 18 years.
Simply exploring the idea of destroying 5 Pointz in order to build residential and commercial property says all we need to know about the status of street art, its place in the art world and how far it still has to come before it is truly taken seriously, and that is a shame.
Anyone who has read my December 20th post on the Provincetown Playhouse knows that I’m not one of those people who constantly hollers, kicks and screams any time something changes in this city. What is most important to me is that an art space’s essence and purpose is preserved, rather than specific elements of the building itself. While I am sticking to that sentiment in this case, 5 Pointz shows us that in order to protect that essence and purpose here, we must preserve this physical space.
There are few spots that offer such a vivid image of the New York City I know and love, and 5 Pointz is one of them. It brings street artists of different backgrounds, different skill levels and different visions together around one space. And unlike other museums, it doesn’t only showcase well-known artists. The very definition of street art makes it a medium that is meant to be accessible to all – it is ground level instead of ivory tower, it is created within the surrounding environment rather than in spite of it and it communicates to people within the people’s domain. It is in that sense that 5 Pointz is a premier contemporary art space that reflects the medium it is showing, and it should be treated as such.
It offers a truly unique urban feel, the New York grittiness that so many people wax poetic about. And it’s about to fall victim to the continued homogenization of this city, another in a long line of casualties that has that has claimed other capitals of art and culture that we were once proud of here.
So take a moment and visit 5ptz.com to learn more about the space and sign their petition to let Mr. Wolkoff know that you value the art that has been created there throughout the years, and you think it should be allowed to continue. Or at least take a look out of the window the next time you ride the 7-train.