Graffiti culture was born and cultivated in New York City, but it expanded rapidly around the world in a craze of risk and art. The modern art community has slowly come to accept graffiti and street art as an admired and respected form of artistic expression, albeit still very controversial. The graffiti culture was born in Philadelphia and through the 60s and 70s shifted into New York City where it gained popularity in Washington Heights and northern Harlem. Over the next two decades through the 70s and 80s, graffiti spread rapidly from northern Manhattan down through the subways, Queens, Brooklyn, and eventually up through all five boroughs. Today, although the streets and subways have been cleaned up considerably from the graffiti covered walls and carts they once were, graffiti has formulated a new style of illustration and visual expression. Once laws became stricter, and the moral questions of graffiti as a practiced form of art came about, it seemed necessary to make moves to recognize it as a legitimate art form that was begging for a place of expression. If the goals of graffiti are to paint, to be seen, and to tag on a large scale, all of this could still be achieved by legal means if only someone could provide a space for it.
5 Pointz was the fulfillment of such a problem, it provided a legitimate space for displaying fantastic works of street art, without the confines of a gallery. The name 5 Pointz is meant to denote the coming together of all five boroughs (Bronx, Manhattan, Staten Island, Queens, and Brooklyn). The official website describes this as an underestimate of the impact the building would have on the graffiti community, since artists would travel from all over the world to contribute their art to the building. Before it was 5 Pointz, the Queens graffiti mecca began as The Phun Phactory. The Phun Phactory actually had roots in the effort abolish graffiti rather than to preserve it, and stemmed from a company called Graffiti Terminators. Pat Dilillo was the owner of Graffiti Terminators, and after consistently whitewashing pieces of works all over the city, he became enamored by the works he was paid to cover. Realizing a root in this problem, Dilillo began to sympathize with the talented youth who needed an outlet for their art. In this realization Dilillo transformed his white washing company into a center for the embracing of graffiti art in its legal form. The headquarters of Graffiti Terminators was transformed into The Phun Phactory, a place for talented artists to display their art on the sides of the building. The result of this venture was a building boasting the greatest graffiti talent New York City had to offer at the time. The Phun Phactory was discontinued in 2002, but was picked up by Meres One, a passionate graffiti artist that wanted to extend Dilillo’s vision further. Meres’ goal was to eventually build a whole community behind his renamed project 5 Pointz. His goals even included plans to build a school, which would teach aerosol art, art history, and entrepreneurship to aspiring artists.
None of these plans were fulfilled though, because unfortunately last November the building’s masterpieces were white washed and painted over. 5 Pointz had been in a long battle to preserve what many believed to be priceless pieces of historical relevant art. Developers were pushing for the building to be torn down to make room for large apartment complexes, which would gather revenue in the rising market of Long Island City. The building took up a large area of potentially profitable space and even rented studio space within its walls for ridiculously low prices. Many petitions were created to save the landmark, but unfortunately 5 Pointz lost the case and will be replaced by a 400 million dollar apartment complex. The sentiments about the historical space were not lost on the owners of the property though, and the resulting complexes will include two stories of walls dedicated to graffiti works.
Having been founded as a colony based on mercantilism and trade, New Amsterdam developed without the strong cultural background its nearby colonies like Boston or Philadelphia did. There was no common religious purpose to tie the colony of New Amsterdam together, only their Dutch heritage, which in itself was a bit of a melting pot as well. The Netherlands served as a frontier center for all rebellion against oppression from the Spanish monarchy, and hence had a driven political purpose in itself, but such sentiment did not necessarily carry over the Atlantic. As New York developed and was taken by the British, its culture still had no mold or specific direction to it, the colony economically had direction as a prime location for trade, but culturally it was left to its own devices. These devices turned out to be fairly negative, as it was a company town the culture tended towards drinking, lewdness, and prostitution. Although overtime New York undoubtedly must have developed some sort of cultural identity for itself, it seems as though our records of it are somewhat vague and there was nothing outstanding to distinguish what was explicitly “New York”. With the publication of The History of New York by Washington Irving in 1809, New York City was gifted an identity perfectly packaged. The History created a cultural identity for New Yorkers in a way that may have been a complete lie and based on inaccurate or silly stories relation to the city’s Dutch history, but nevertheless it was a history to identify with as a community. A communal connection to culture is necessary for its creation, and New York City did not seem to have enough of a common understanding of their culture as exemplified by Elizabeth Bradley’s first chapter of Knickerbocker: The Myth Behind New York. Bradley describes the dinner of the New York Historical Society at which there are differing opinions on how much progress the society has actually achieved and proving the point that New York’s history was at a sort of stand still. Knickerbocker as a character tied together different attributes that I believe coincidentally worked perfectly with the already developing characteristics of such an urban and trade centered city. The necessary qualities of citizens in such a large and bustling center would likely be hard work ethic, and pride. The character of Knickerbocker with his history of lies gave these qualities historical justification for New Yorkers and drove them further foster this cultural identity for themselves with his inspiration. The authenticity of the text is almost irrelevant here the same way the Walum Olum’s significance culturally at the time was not necessarily based on its authenticity. The effect it had on people at the time was the real significance of the text, Knickerbocker, fake or not, served a purpose for New Yorkers in telling them firmly what a New Yorker truly was, its likely they knew already, but there was no one authoritative figure to tell them so. An important point I think this proves about our nature is that we feel the need to base our cultural identity’s in something historical and when it comes to identity we always ultimately look back in order to look forward.