By Brian J. Pape, AIA
There is a keenly watched legal battle being waged over creative expression, as noted in WestView News March and April 2018 articles by Catherine Revland, The 5Pointz Decision. The Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (VARA) has been litigated in a jury trial for the first time, ending February 2018 with a $6.7 million damages award to 21 artists, now under appeal.
It may take many years to work out an interpretation of what was meant in practical application of its terms, but from a basic property rights aspect, is this verdict saying that others can control how you use your property if you allow an application of paint on your walls?
Now, some of the same artists that were involved with the 5Pointz case have a new patron, the CitizenM New York Bowery Hotel (now that’s a mouthful!) at 189 Bowery, right at the terminus of Spring Street. The international hotel chain opens on the Bowery in October as “affordable luxury in a prime location” with a stylish, artsy emphasis.
As reported in a New York Times article by Lauren Hard on Sep. 17, this CitizenM will house the Museum of Street Art (MOSA) in its 20-story stairwell, featuring the works of 20 “aerosol artists” from the 5Pointz group (although the hotel’s website makes no mention of it yet).
From October 1, 2018 to January 12, 2019, the AIANY gallery will open a free exhibit entitled Close to the Edge: The Birth of Hip-Hop Architecture, featuring the work of students, academics, and practitioners at the center of an emerging cultural movement. Over the last five decades, since Black and Latino youth of New York’s South Bronx neighborhood established hip-hop, their primary means of expression—deejaying, emceeing, b-boying, and graffiti—have become globally recognized creative practices in their own right, and each has significantly impacted the urban built environment.
Hip-Hop Architecture displays spaces, buildings, and environments that embody the creative energy of these means of hip-hop expression.
Architecture must be recognized as valid creative art requiring legal protection, just as the graffiti artists are fighting for their art. Photographing and coopting images of art for other commercial uses is being debated in the courts. Until the built creations of architects get copyright and publicity rights as other artists, all art is diminished.
Brian J. Pape is an architectural consultant in private practice, serves on the Community Board Two, is Co-chair of the American Institute of Architects NY Design for Aging Committee, and is WestView News’s Architectural Editor.