“It was very difficult for me to do this, but I had to do it because I'm going to be demolishing the building,” said Wolkoff of the decision. “And to see one piece at a time come down I felt would be really torturous.”
Marie Cecile Flageul, head of media relations for the 5 Pointz Aerosol Arts Center, which is still among the legal tenants of the building, sees the whitewashing in a different light.
“It is an art murder, and we're grieving every piece,” said Flageul. “He didn't need to whitewash, the building is not going to go down for another three or four months [and] people that live in this neighborhood – not him – and people who take the 7 train are going to have to look at this eyesore every day.”
Wolkoff has been considering demolition for some time now, and expressed incredulity at the notion that the artists would cause him so much trouble after allowing them to paint freely for so many years.
“Why they sued me is beyond me,” said Wolkoff, who likened graffiti art to sandcastle art at the beach. “There are people who go to the beach [and] do sandcastles to work on it for hours. Then four hours later, the tide comes in and washes it away. But they got their thrill doing what they wanted to do. And that's graffiti.”
Wolkoff was also confused with the landmarking plan, and called the effort “misguided.”
“Why would they want landmark status? When you do landmark, you can never go on to the building again because it has to stay status quo,” he said. “They don't want that, they want to continually paint.”
Flageul said that Wolkoff is “ignorant” in this regard.
“You have two aspects for landmarking: historical, which is for buildings over 100 years old, and sense of place, not defined by architecture, but by years of contribution that make an entire audience, which can be the population of a city, or [tourists], meaning that it's identifiable,” said Flageul.
She clarified that “sense of place” landmarks do not necessarily require stagnation.
After the whitewash, Long Island City and the street art community gathered to pay tribute, signing messages on taped-up poster board provided by Jonathan Cohen, or Meres One, and his 5 Pointz team. Despite Flageul's assurance that they have the support of the local police, some are still being arrested for their contributions.
“The type of graffiti that I saw when I passed by was just silliness, just scribbling on the wall,” said Wolkoff of the arrests, adding resignedly, “anyone who tags my building now is going to get arrested.”
“Of course it was scribbles,” countered Flageul. “It was not art, it was messages of people. Kids as young as six years old wrote messages, and one of the oldest people I saw write was Jerry Rotundi. He's 80 years old and he's from the neighborhood.”
Wolkoff envisions a timetable for structural demolition beginning soon after the first of the year, and completion of the two towers by 2016. Flageul said 5 Pointz plans on delaying that process.
“A federal judge confirmed that a lot of the artists are entitled to financial damages for what he has done,” said Flageul. “So right now, we can concentrate and put a huge amount of pressure at this point to just slow down demolition.”
Despite the backlash, Wolkoff has invited street artists to paint on the 60-foot exterior walls that will sit at the base of his new towers. Plans also include 12,000 square feet of internal artist studio and gallery space, and Cohen was offered a chance to curate the nearly 10,000 square feet of wall space throughout the buildings.
“You're not going to hear me say one thing negative about these artists,” said Wolkoff. “In my case, I said I'm taking the building down and I'll allow you to come back. I'm a friend of yours. Why would you turn on me?”
Flageul says that if plans move forward with tower construction, it will happen without the help of the street art community.
“First of all, with the new position, it's blocking the 7 train, how are people supposed to paint on that?” asked Flageul. “I don't know why he keeps on talking about it, because artists from all over have made their statements: There is not one street or graffiti artist that will contribute to that building. Ever.”