A Pilgrimage to 5 Pointz

By MARIA TERRONE

5 Pointz

From the elevated train in Queens, I’d glimpse the phantasmagoria that was 5 Pointz. A riot of color and occasional faces covering every inch of the old, block-long factory, it felt hallucinatory. In a minute—not enough time for the eye or brain to take it all in—the images vanished and the train rumbled underground, heading to Manhattan.

5 Pointz

For years, male and female aerosol artists from all over the world—Europe, Australia, Japan— created their graffiti art here, on the outside walls of this gritty building in now-gentrifying Long Island City. (I later learned that curator and graffiti veteran Jonathan Cohen, known as “Meres One,” reviewed all artists’ requests in advance.) I was intrigued, but although I lived just a short el-ride away, I never paid a visit. That is, until 5 Pointz came under threat by its owner-developers, who announced plans to bulldoze and erect two luxury high-rise apartment buildings on the site.

5 Pointz Close-up

I enlisted my cousin, an avid 5 Pointz fan, to be my guide. Nothing prepared me for the experience. I was stunned by the intricacy of the vibrant images climbing stories high, and their careful planning and execution. These photos are a tiny sampling of what I saw that day—as far from crude “spray and run” graffiti as you can imagine. When I came upon the face of a helmeted soldier painted in pointillism style, I realized I was in an outdoor museum—not the kind where patrons tiptoe, speaking in whispers, but a dynamic, ever-changing creative hub. Even the colors seemed to vibrate.

Pointillism Soldier

Besides the energy, there was a palpable sense of camaraderie at 5 Pointz, as artists worked from street level or on ladders while amazed tourists—many foreign-born—snapped away or shot video. In the distance, the crimson logo of Citicorp floated in the clouds.

5 Pointz and Skyscraper

With the threat of demolition looming, “Save 5 Pointz” rallies were held, testimony presented to elected officials, and a lawsuit filed on behalf of the artists. Then in the early hours of November 19, 2013, the unthinkable happened: the landlord had the art whitewashed into oblivion. Word spread and “R.I.P.— REST IN POWER” signs soon appeared.

5 Pointz Wolfman

“I feel the loss emotionally,” says Jerry Rotondi, 72, a retired art director who calls himself a 5 Pointz volunteer, advocate, and friend. “What happened there was real democracy. Artists of all ages, ethnicities and social strata had one thing in common: the creation of an art building unique in the world. It was a pilgrimage site, a meeting place to revel in art, a crucible of creativity.”

5 Pointz Cartoon Art

Jerry tells me that once he overheard a little girl wonder aloud, “Is this Candyland?” I know how she felt. There was something about the place that sparked a feeling of giddy fun, and I found myself constantly gasping in delight, taking photos with abandon. Everywhere I looked, there was an image I wanted to savor.

5 Pointz work in progress

The initial shock over the loss has passed, but many are still mourning. Years from now, I think 5 Pointz will be remembered internationally as an artists’ mecca like no other. It lasted over a decade. I was glad to walk wide-eyed in this wonderland, however briefly.

 

 

Maria Terrone is the author of two poetry collections, A Secret Room in Fall and The Bodies We Were Loaned, as well as a chapbook, American Gothic, Take 2. Her third poetry collection, Eye to Eye, will be published by Bordighera Press in spring 2014.

A Pilgrimage to 5 Pointz

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