Writing’s on the Wall (Art Is, Too, for Now)Share
New York City residents debate the merits and demerits of graffiti as a form of public art.
THREE heavyset guys armed with aerosol canisters have their boombox tuned to a ribald talk-radio show as they transform a grungy section of wall in Long Island City, Queens, from a peeling mess to a psychedelic swirl of letters spelling out their names. The opposite of furtive, these tattooed artisans laugh as they brandish spraypaint cans for an audience of curious passers-by. Tagging may be illegal in New York, but not on this extraordinarily colorful industrial block beneath the shriek of the No. 7 subway line.
Farther along the street, a transit-themed mural includes a tongue-in-cheek four-star rating credited to Councilman Peter F. Vallone Jr., one of the city’s most vocal critics of graffiti — or, as it is described by fans and practitioners, aerosol art. To them, this desolate site known as 5Pointz Arts Center is a mecca for graffiti artists, rappers and break-dancers from the five boroughs and beyond. Icons of the medium like Cope 2, Tats Cru and Tracy 168 have painted here, and musicians as diverse as Joss Stone and Jadakiss have shot videos using its garish walls as backdrop.
“These walls to me are no different than a canvas in a museum,” said Jonathan Cohen, 38, an artist from Flushing. He is the primary guardian here, and the source of the billboard-size words painted on the main wall, “5Pointz: The Institute of Higher Burnin’.” That his piercing eyes are worried and his dark hair infiltrated with gray is directly linked to recent statements by the building’s owner that 5Pointz is living on borrowed time — destined to be replaced by two residential towers.