Early this morning, New York City’s holy land of street art, 5Pointz, a.k.a. The Institute of Higher Burnin’, got a fresh coat of white paint, all but ending the years-long struggle between the graffiti community and the building’s owner, who wants the warehouse torn down for new high-rises. But Jerry Wolkoff, the man in charge, insists he’s not the bad guy. Calling his critics “misguided,” Wolkoff tells Daily Intelligencer that he loves what the taggers did with the place, and will welcome them back when his new buildings are done. “I know it seems like a bitter pill to take, but it’s medicine,” he says.
You must be having a stressful morning.
Oh god. God knows what happened. All I did was the right thing.
What exactly occurred?
We painted over the building.
And whose decision was that?
Mine. Let me tell you the reason why: The judge gave me the right to demolish my building. It would take three months. To watch the pieces go down piece by piece by piece would be torturous. In New York, you can’t implode a building. So let me just go in and paint it in one morning, and it’s over with.
I had tears in my eyes while I was doing it. I know it seems like a bitter pill to take, but it’s medicine. I didn’t like it, but it’s going to get me better. It’s best for them, and it’s best for me. In my new building I’ll have walls for them to express their aerosol art.
Why have a police presence there during the painting?
I told the police to be there. The last thing I wanted was any confrontation. I didn’t want any of them to be arrested. I have so much respect for them. It’s my building, I can paint on it. I would feel terrible if someone got arrested. What would I gain? That’s why I did it in the morning.
But what was already there was considered graffiti history.
Tell me what history I’m demolishing! Let’s discuss this: They paint over their work continuously. It’s nothing. A piece goes up, and six months later somebody else paints over it.
That’s the tradition within the art form …
Exactly! That’s what street art is. They speak about having landmarks preservation, which they could never get. They don’t want that anyway — they want to keep painting. With landmarks you can’t do anything. With the new building they can come back and keep expressing themselves. They’re misguided.
But you can see how it looks bad to fans of the form for a developer to do it.
They say things that don’t make sense. You must understand I love what they did. I didn’t like it, I love what they did. They’re misguided. You’ll never hear me say a bad word against them. Ever! I understand their passion. I think they’re terrific.
What is the plan for the new space?
I’ve got two high-rise rental apartment buildings — a 47- and a 41-story building. I’ll have 60-foot walls for them to come in and express themselves.
And the time frame?
Hopefully we’re going to get started by the beginning of the year. We’re not going to stop. Hopefully by 2015 or 2016 it’ll be up. It’ll be back again.
Even if there’s a new space for graffiti in the new building, it’s unlikely a residential building could have the same historical significance as the old one, isn’t it?
Don’t say that. Don’t say that. I wouldn’t say that.