Bronx Gentrification: Epitaph To An Era: Whitewash In LIC
In Gentrifying Long Island City Loses A Bit Of Its Heart & Soul
Jeffrey Leder Art Gallery Showcases Demise Of 5 Pointz Through Artwork Of Its Circle Of Graffiti Artists
Saturday evening I made my way into Long Island City to attend the opening night of the Whitewash art exhibit at the Jeffrey Leder Gallery. Whitewash is an exhibit of the art works of a collection of the 5 Pointz graffiti artists. These artists recently lost their artistic and spiritual home - the 5 Pointz building in LIC - and the exhibit opening was part funerary rites and celebration of a new beginning. The photo to your right shows one of the paintings on exhibit at the Whitewash art exhibit at the Jeffrey Leder Gallery in LIC.
As I got off the #7 train, I decided to swing by the building to witness its whitewashed walls. I took a couple of photos of them, recalling prior visits to the outdoor art gallery, where every five to ten feet, in vivid living color, one could witness the creation of a local graffiti artist. The outdoor gallery exhibits would change, piece by piece, week by week, month by month and year by year. There always seemed to be a few artists working the walls. The 5 Pointz building is southeast of the Court Square subway stop, and for drivers it's just across from PS1 MoMA on Jackson Avenue between Crane & Davis Streets.
As I shot photos of the walls and loading dock area, I could still see in my mind, the outdoor parties of the past. I recalled the art exhibits that had been thrown over the years, with music emanating from somewhere. Intellectually we all know it was within the building owner's rights to whitewash his own building. And it isn't hard for anyone to understand why the building owner would want to reap a huge profit by razing the building and erecting a new structure from which the cash will flow. I reckoned we were lucky to have had the years we had, to enjoy the beauty and the beat of the graffiti on the street, seen from the windows of the subway train as it snaked its way through LIC.
So with these thoughts, I headed onto 45th Road, to the Jeffrey Leder art gallery to witness and participate in the Whitewash art exhibit opening night reception. Click here to read our report about Whitewash art exhibit / 5 Pointz in LIC. NYC Art & Artists near the Bronx NYC.
Epitaph To An Era: Whitewash In LIC
Long Island City Loses A Bit Of Its Heart & Soul
Jeffrey Leder Art Gallery Showcases Demise Of 5 Pointz Through Artwork Of Its Circle Of Graffiti Artists
Jeffrey Leder Art Gallery
As I approached the gallery, I found a hip hop crowd, lingering outside, rubbing shoulders with the prepped and gentrifieds. I made my way up the brownstone steps and into the crowded gallery. There was a concentration of artistic communal energy present, that was akin to the energy of a large extended family. It was the family of artists who had come to mourn the death of 5 Pointz and some of the cultural cool of the LIC milieu. Jeffrey Leder is shown at right on the opening night of Whitewash.
I found Jeffery moving through the crowd like the host of a house party. We spoke for a few moments as he told me how he'd come to sponsoring the current exhibit. Jeffrey said something began stirring within, after the graffiti art had been 'taken down' or whitewashed by the building owner. Jeffrey had long viewed the 5 Pointz walls as an outdoor art exhibit and he began to realize just how much a part of the fabric of his life the building had beenafter the art had disappeared. He told me that through a series of conversations beginning with Orestes Gonzalez and Meres & Marie [former curators of 5 Pointz], he decided to exhibit the 5 Pointz artists in his LIC gallery. They decided to call the exhibit Whitewash, since that's how the drama surrounding the end of 5 Pointz had come to an end [one morning the 5 Pointz owner whitewashed / painted over the artwork on the building walls]. A photo of the whitewashed 5 Pointz is shown to your right.
I asked Jeffrey a bit about his background [marketing] and his history in LIC [moved here ten years ago] and about the gallery [opened in September 2009], before continuing my search for Meres who had curated the 5 Pointz building walls pretty much since its inceoption about 12 years ago.
5 Pointz Art Scene & Graffiti Art
Upstairs I found a sculptor, Hunt Rodriguez, who was talking about his connection to 5 Pointz and his latest creation - The Writer's Dream. One of the things Hunt liked most about 5 Pointz was that anyone could paint [with permission] on the building. You didn't have to be famous to paint a piece. Hunt was not one of the 5 Pointz graffiti artists, as he is a sculptor, and he told me that he stays true to his trade. I would later find out from Meres, that the artists of 5 Pointz call themselves street writers, not graffiti artists and hence the name - The Writer's Dream.
5 Pointz As Iconic Symbol For NYC
In the large front room on the second floor of the gallery I met tour guide / photographer Hans Von Rittern. Hans had photographed 5 Pointz for many years, and like Hunt, had never painted its walls. Hans included 5 Pointz in all his tours of NYC and it was frequently the highlight of the trip for his European guests. To them, 5 Pointz was an iconic structure symbolizing the essence of what is New York City - fun, edgy and free. The day 5 Pointz was whitewashed, Hans had taken a group to see it. He pointed to one of the paintings on the wall where he was shown in the picture, witnessing and mourning the whitewashing of 5 Pointz. To the right is Hans in one of the pictures on exhibit at the Jeffrey Leder gallery in LIC.
Hans talked about the Whitewash exhibit as a catharsis. He characterized it as a funeral ... to say a final farewell to the building, the artwork; and likely to the community of local artists that had grown up around it. "Art has purpose and moves on", he said. His photos are hanging along the front room of the second floor.
Meres One - 5 Pointz Curator
Meres was also upstairs, in the center of a crowd, as he had always been the times I had visited 5 Pointz. He was a street maestro of sorts, conducting a symphony of the raw local talent that made 5 Pointz the artistic LIC icon it had become. And for a brief while, it had emerged as a cause celebre, before it was whitewashed.
Meres told me that the Fun Factory was the predecessor to 5 Pointz, and it began sometime in and around the turn of the 21st century. The 5 Pointz itself started sometime in 2002, on a Tuesday, but in which month of that year he couldn't quite recall. Funny [ironic] what we do and do not remember. How the name 5 Pointz came to be and what it symbolized, wasn't made certainly clear, but one artist told me that it symbolized the nexus of all five boroughs.
Meres had presided over 5 Pointz for a dozen years. He catered to the youth with hip hop music and art, biking, boxing and gallery events. In 2012 & 2013, the last two years of 5 Pointz, about 40 events had been organized each year. It was noted that Marie (Meres' significant other and curator of the exhibit) was instrumental in organizing and managing maestro Meres symphony of culture.
Meres Personal History Of Graffiti Art In NYC
Meres started out on the street as a graffiti artist more than 20 years ago. He recalled that at that time, the public perception of graffit art was very negative. The art of the street was completely free of all constraints, and the graffiti was a combination of anger, rebellion and in-your-face beauty, brought to you in the most public of places, in vivid living color, with out-of-the-mainstream commentary.
Meres recalled how he first started 'tagging'. Tagging is painting your signature on the wall. Then he moved onto 'doing pieces', which are block letter designs. And eventually he graduated to productions, which are words with artistic backgrounds. As mentioned previously, Meres had told me that graffiti artists see themselves writers. The graffiti artists label arrived in the 80's when graffiti was a real problem, and for a long while it carried a very negative connotation.
Graffiti Artwork - Expression & Catharsis
Meres lived in LIC during the years he'd curated 5 Pointz. He was sad to lose the building turned art gallery, and said that he had been through the whole gamut of emotions in coming to where he is now. As an artist, he found an outlet for expressing those emotions in a painting that hung in the main room on the ground floor, above the fireplace. I had noticed it when I arrived, as it was a perfect portrayal of the iconic building, but with a twist I had overlooked as I stayed focused on my search for commentary.
Embedded in the painting are words. Words like lies, politics, greed, corruption, ignorance, gentrification, heartless, coward, evil, hurt and a few words I couldn't decipher. So amid the beauty of the 5 Pointz building, he'd embedded the human traits and characteristics that eventually lead to 5 Pointz end. Meres felt that the more LIC becomes gentrified, the more it loses its heart and soul. Meres isn't the only person I've heard say this over the past couple of years.
Meres had other art works on display. One of his signatures is the light bulb which he uses symbolically. Meres described it as the symbol of creativity - an idea - and in the exhibit at the Jeffrey Leder Gallery, Meres had also created some burnt out bulbs, which he described as the symbol of a soulless work.
What Is The Purpose Of True Art?
Orestes Gonzalez was also in the main room on the second floor. Orestes is a photographer, designer and artist. And as mentioned previously, Orestes was one of the people who Jeffrey Leder had spoken to prior to developing the exhibit. Orestes had a work on display above the second floor fireplace, also of 5 Pointz, but whitewashed. Below right is Orestes Gonzalez standing next to his painting-sized photo of the whitewashed 5 Pointz building.
Orestes talked about art. He said that "beauty alone isn't enough". "Plainly beautiful grows dull and uninteresting over time." He said that, "real art has something about it that is irritating, or disturbing, that it somehow moves you".
I recalled a passage from the 20th century artist Georges Braque who said, "Art is made to disturb, science to reassure." As Orestes was telling me this, I couldn't help but think about Meres' painting on the first floor [see below].
Meres' Masterpiece - 5 Pointz In All Her Beauty & Controversy
I made my way downstairs to look at Meres' painting again. There, hanging in front of me, was an artwork that had captured the beauty of 5 Pointz by its primary creator. And in it, Meres had etched the disturbing words describing the human motives and character traits which had lead to 5 Pointz demise; as well as the emotional anger and angst that had followed.
Meres had created an artistic masterpiece. He had captured all the beauty and personality of his beloved - no - our beloved 5 Pointz ... and he had also infused the work with his own heart and soul. But there was also something that was disturbing about the painting. Something that moved me and many others who saw it. Something that made us think about what's happening to our neighborhood(s) in Queens.
Meres was telling us something we don't want to hear, but that needs to be said ... because we all know it's true. Perhaps one day, all the hard scrabble places that give Long Island City its current character will be 'cleaned up'. There won't be any easy street parking because the neighborhood will have an incredible population density and not enough parking space. And even if they don't take away any more open space, the pressure on the existing parks will ony increase with time. And many of the small business owners and residents who don't own their property, eventually won't be able to pay the rents required to work or live here. It won't, in fact, be the friendly familiar Long Island City we all have known - but rather something quite different. And billions and hundreds of millions will be made, but nearly all of it collected by only a few. That's the downside of gentrification ... and Meres artwork seemed to capture it all.
Epilogue, Epitaph & Epigram
I finally caught up with Marie who had named and curated the exhibit. She had started at 5 Pointz in 2009 and helped Meres with the events. She continues to do events & event planning in LIC and around the boroughs. To her, the show was a much needed catharsis. Every day of her life for the past four to five years she's been a witness to the creativity of 5 Pointz. She sees the Whitewash exhibit as the requiem service for what was once 5 Pointz. She believes that letting 5 Pointz go was a big mistake culturally for the LIC community, but said, "We have strength, we have ideas and we have stories to tell". The photo below shows Marie in the Jeffrey Leder art gallery in LIC [photo by Orestes Gonzalez].
Meres & Marie recently moved to Brooklyn. Meres isn't quite sure yet about exactly what he is going to do with his future. He's keeping his options open, as he is not anxious to dive right back into something because he wants to be sure that this sort of thing will not happen to him again.
He did say that he was looking for canvass - or rather walls - WALLS, WALLS, WALLS and more WALLS - to paint on. He said art is what makes him happy and art is what keeps him going.
Someone at the exhibit said, "Art endures. Art lives on." I got a sense from the Whitewash opening night that "these 5 Pointz artists will endure, and these 5 Pointz artists will live on."
The Whitewash exhibit will run through June 8th. All paintings and sculptures are for sale and will help these artists transition into their next gigs.
The Jeffrey Leder Gallery is located at 21-37 45th Road in LIC and is open Wednesday through Sunday from 12 noon - 6 pm or by appointment.
Many thanks to Meres, Marie, Orestes, Hunt, Hans and the Jeffrey Leder Art Gallery in LIC.
Art Scene in LIC: Photos of 5 Pointz Whitewash Exhibit / Jeffrey Leder Gallery
The following slide show contains photos of the 5 Pointz Whitewash Exhibit at the Jeffrey Leder Gallery in LIC. Click here to go directly into the photo album containing photos of one of the 5 Pointz art exhibit in LIC.
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