In the Eye of the Beholder? Graffiti on West Village Buildings

By Brian J Pape, Aia, Leed-Ap

Protest street art appeared everywhere during the months of civil rights protests in many cities, when plywood seemed to cover every storefront. We wrote about this recent phenomena and how, although not officially authorized, it typically added to the lively street scene and did not vandalize the building itself. Now that the plywood has been removed, where did all that art go? It doesn’t seem that the artists we’ve talked to got to take it home.

Graffiti has been around, historians say, since ancient times. People make their mark on something that’s not theirs. Modern graffiti is usually in the form of spray paint on buildings or structures, or even trucks and subway cars. It usually involves some danger, climbing up roofs or hanging over walls, usually at night, and certainly some risk of being caught.

What appeals to the street artists to spend their time and money on certain locations, and not others? It would be too glib to guess they are drawn to abandoned or neglected places, as we’ll see from some examples.

Recently, more new graffiti has popped up around the West Village, and it has nothing to do with the protest movement. It is irreverent, colorful, graphic, but is it art, or is it vandalism? That same old question. See for yourself.

In a related note, you may recall the infamous lawsuit filed when developer G&M Realty painted over the street art at its 5Pointz warehouse in 2013, in preparation for a new project construction, without properly giving the artists 90-days’ notice. A U.S. District Court judge had upheld the decision in February 2020, after an appeal was brought by Jerry Wolkoff, the lead developer who died in July 2020. The  U.S. Supreme Court’s decision this summer to not rehear the U.S. District Court case, means the developer will need to pay $6.7million to the 45 murals plaintiffs.

With that case settled, will it spur a rush of more graffiti, hoping for protection, or for artists who’ve lost their street art ‘without proper notice’ to file lawsuits? And how will property rights be defended against interlopers? 

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