This is no vandalism case in a criminal courthouse, but rather a federal lawsuit filed in 2013 by the 23 artists who painted regularly at 5Pointz, against its owner, Jerry Wolkoff, who ordered the artwork destroyed.
The artists scored an incremental legal victory on March 31 when Judge Frederic Block of Federal District Court in Brooklyn ruled that their case could have a jury trial.
The plaintiffs hope it could become a landmark case. Celebrity artists like Banksy have gained prominence in recent years, and street art — whether spray painted, stenciled or wheat-pasted — has gained increasing respect and value, even when created on walls not owned by the artists.
The ruling sets up the fascinating scene of a trial in which art experts could be called to weigh in on the integrity of what court papers call “aerosol art,” and to evaluate the graffiti artists themselves. Evidence will include articles on 5Pointz, a building complex along Jackson Avenue in Long Island City that was covered with spray-painted murals by top street artists from New York and around the world.
Painting with Mr. Wolkoff’s permission, artists had turned the spot into an international graffiti mecca, an exhibition space and conservatory.
Preparing to build high rises on the property in 2013, Mr. Wolkoff faced opposition from the artists, who sought to block the demolition. He hired a crew that painted over the murals under cover of night, then left the building sitting for months until it was knocked down in 2014.
The judge’s ruling offers the artists a chance to confront Mr. Wolkoff in court and to seek redress for painting over their work, said Jonathan Cohen, an artist who had curated the murals and helped organize the artists at 5Pointz since 2002.
Mr. Cohen said he was hopeful that the suit might become a landmark case to establish street art as legitimate contributions worthy of protection.