Soul, Painted Over: Eulogy for 5 Pointz
New York City is and has always been a repository and breeding ground of art and culture, both high and low. The former has its share of cathedrals dedicated to its magnification and preservation, dotting the Upper East and West Sides, with some sprinklings up and downtown. Be it Lincoln Center, The Met, The other Met with the music and the costumes and sustained C sharps, or the rotund irregularity of the Guggenheim, to say nothing of the Whitney or the MOMA, High Art has its dedicated spaces in this city. Low art, or what some of my more black-clad friends would call the good stuff, prefers to keep things simpler, smaller, dirtier. Be it the famous commodes of CBGB’s, tellingly gone from us these past 6 years, or the smoky haze of the Bowery Ballroom or the Mercury Lounge, without getting into the tight squeeze of the Cake Shop, Pianos, or some trust fund MFA’s Bushwick loft, the lower arts of noise, image, and movement has a place to go at night as well.
There is one major difference between the high and low creative space, and that is the cost of its blood. Should someone motion to take down Carnegie Hall to make way for the luxury high-rise condos Midtown East seems to so desperately need, one can only imagine the outcry from those who sit the board of Dow Chemical or Goldman Sachs, in addition to whatever Opera guild operates nearest their brownstone. MOMA is not only free from such calls to extinction, but is itself about to undergo nearly a billion dollars worth of renovations. Such safety does not apply to the houses of the lower arts and culture. As previously mentioned, the house that birthed The Ramones, Television, Blondie, and Patti Smith is now a high end fashion boutique. Where punk was born, 2,000 dollar torn jackets can now be had. So much for CBGBs. Every year, nearly a dozen venues that feed the vitality that makes New York New York suffer a similar fate. Now obviously, this is rarely a direct result of the unforgiving market of appreciators rather than creators NYC has become, but enough of the time, it is. Hell, even if it were only CBGBs, it would be a tremendous loss for art in modern history. And the story only keeps repeating.
This past Tuesday, under cover of darkness, the legendary Queens graffiti space 5 Pointz, also known as the “Institute of Higher Burning”, was painted over white by developers seeking to turn the buildings into luxury condos. The building had 200,000 thousand square feet of façade covered in graffiti, attracting artists from around the world to claim a small part of this shared cultural tapestry for their own vision. The name 5 Pointz denotes the five boroughs coming together to share their art in this space, though really the connection was global. Artists in other areas also claimed the space as their own, everyone from Jam Master Jay of Run DMC, who had the first portrait there, to Joss Stone, KRS One, and others. Even the recent movie Now You See Me featured the space. It was one of the last spaces in New York where every aspect of the city came together, where everyone was represented in one place. Except, I guess, luxury condo developers, and their clientele. I hope they enjoy living atop a graveyard, featuring a tombstone that ought not to read just 5 Pointz, but a little bit of the soul of NYC as well.