Graffiti (singular: graffito): writing or drawings that have been scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface in a public place.
Since ancient times people have etched their names into walls and rocks, ‘tagging’ themselves into their environment, an act that for the most part has been seen as a blight, an act of vandalism frowned upon by the establishment. When you think about graffiti you might imagine the jagged, neon letters of a gang’s name marking out their turf in a subway tunnel but one visit to the 5 Pointz museum should be enough to convince you that there’s much more to the world of graffiti than hurriedly sprayed nametags.
5 Pointz is the world’s largest display of graffiti art, a warehouse in Long Island City, New York which for the past twenty years has been used as a giant canvas for the world’s top street artists, a glorious explosion of colour amidst rows of dull brown industrial buildings; this amazing piece of art represents a history of the past twenty years of graffiti and is more than worth a visit if you happen to be in New York, it’s also completely free.
Artists from all over the world flock to this constantly evolving tribute to an art-form and it’s impossible not to be blown away when you first lay eyes on the exhibit, your mind scrabbling to comprehend so many different styles on such a massive scale. Each wall of the warehouse offers up the creative visions of countless artists, providing hours worth of incredible art to consume for those with the time to spare.
Originally known as The Phun Factory, 5 Pointz was initially set up by a New York group known as the Graffiti Terminators in an effort to have graffiti artists display their work in one agreed upon area, giving them a space to work in whilst keeping the rest of the city free from their tags, somewhere they could express themselves without constantly worrying about the police.
As the site developed and grew in stature it was taken on and officially curated by Jonathan Cohen, known as Meres One in the graffiti World, who now demands samples of artist’s work before they can display. Over the years 5 Pointz has gone from representing the five boroughs of New York to encapsulating a flourishing global scene with artists from Canada, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Japan, Brazil and all over the U.S painting at the site. These artists include big names in the graffiti world such as Stay High 149, Tracy 168, Cope2, Part, SPE, and TATS CRU. Images include beautiful works by Japanese artist Shiro and French painter Djalouz. The building is laid out with works by ‘old school’ artists occupying the top floors while newer artists constantly change the look of the lower levels.
As you wander around you’ll come across beautifully rendered Japanese concubines, Picasso-esque cubist landscapes, the amazing ‘Eat or be Eaten’ by Austrian artist Onur, a giant sleeping woman by Chilean artist Dasic and my personal favourite Esteban del Valle’s amazing tribute to Jean Cocteau’s 1946 film adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, an incredible piece of art that brings to mind the visual style of film director Guillermo del Toro, most especially his work in Pan’s Labyrinth. It’s easy to get caught up in the works as they interweave with each other, every patch of wall you lay your eyes on telling a different story. Who knew graffiti had so many wildly varying and diverse styles?
Tourists take pictures of the incredibly detailed works on the outer walls while groups of school kids sit with textbooks open learning about this unique art style while attempting to create their own graffiti tags. It’s a hive of activity, an amazing venue to learn about the history and shifting styles of this oft-derided art style, one which, with the likes of Banksy now a household name, has shed some of its illicit reputation over the past decade.
Sadly, following 2009 inspections by city services the warehouse and art studios that make up 5 Pointz were condemned for various safety reasons and plans have now been put in place to bulldoze the site to build $400million worth of luxury flats on the site. A sad end seems unavoidable for this amazing, important piece of New York art history, a highlight of any trip to the city, 5 Pointz is a monument to graffiti art that you should consider catching soon, before it disappears forever.
Also check out this BBC article and video exploring the closure of 5 Pointz in more detail by clicking here!
Entry Price: Free!
How to get there;
Address: 5 Pointz, Jackson Avenue at Crane Street and Davis Street, the whole block, Long Island City, NY 11101.
By Subway: E, V subways to 23 St/Ely Ave., 7 to 45 Rd/Court House Sq., G to Court House Square.
By Car: Queensboro Bridge to Queens Blvd, right on Jackson Ave, left on Purves.
PHOTOS: PJ O’Reilly