Graffiti is a polarizing thing. It can be defended as art and expression by some, denounced as blight or eyesore by others, and is linked historically with the state of disrepair New York City fell into in the 70s and 80s. However, for those with views somewhere closer to the middle—those who disapprove of the unauthorized use of public property but find themselves drawn to the aesthetics—5 Pointz in Long Island City was “designed” with you in mind. A fundamentally urban art space, 5 Pointz (so named in honor of the city’s boroughs) is a home to NYC graffiti artists inspired by the streets and New York’s longstanding association with hip-hop culture.
But the brain trust behind 5 Pointz Queens do not aim to “legitimize” vandalism, rogue graffiti or simple “tagging,” the defiant writing of one’s name or “tag” on all manner of buildings and structures. Rather, 5 Pointz—subtitled “The Institute of Higher Burnin’”—is a haven for what they and many others consider an inherently valid art form, one that needs no apology or context. Just as you might see any number of unrelated works at any one of the city’s more venerable museums, so too will you encounter an unbounded display of expression, a block long at Jackson and Davis in LIC, where the unifying element is not the medium of spray-paint but the creative visions that end up on the walls.
In fact, just describing 5 Pointz is something of a challenge, because a couple of words that would seem apt—“graffiti” and “gallery”—aren’t really accurate. The meaning of the word “graffiti” resonates emotionally with so many as “vandalism” and “destruction” that 5 Pointz generally eschews it, preferring to simply call it “art,” and the venue as a whole is presented as an “aerosol art center.” That moniker fits better than “gallery”, because unlike a typical, exclusive museum, artists don’t have to jump through a thousand hoops and cross their fingers to get a showcase—no artist is denied a shot at 5 Pointz NYC. To facilitate this policy, surfaces are refreshed frequently, making way for new ideas and defining the space as more a constantly changing experience than a static room containing finite energy.
5 Pointz also functions naturally as a sort of preservation society for a New York of another time. In the not so distant past, hip-hop, in its purest, most vibrant form was a defining element of all of the city’s “pointz,” providing a sort of escapism from the ills of inner-city life. It was a multifaceted art-form that included street art and dancing alongside rapping and DJing, and was defined by positive energy and freedom of expression, and the joyous visuals which accompanied were all but bursting with that vibe—summed up as “Peace, Love, Unity, and Havin’ Fun” by some early champions of the form. Hip-hop culture eventually went in other directions, for better or worse, and much of this vibrancy and uplift got lost along the way. 5 Pointz was conceived, and thrives, in that spirit; indeed, the location was originally called the “Phun Phactory.” The space is a constant magnet for artists, musicians, DJs and other creative types who come to enjoy the experience.
A unique facet in the ever-brightening jewel Long Island City Queens has become, 5 Pointz is really a living exhibition of not only wonderful art but of New York itself. If you’ve never visited, now is the perfect time, as they are participating in NYC’s Armory Arts Week this weekend, Thurdsay March 8th through Sunday the 12th, starting at 2pm; like 5 Pointz itself, the event is free! It’s another of many great reasons to come out to Long Island City, for fun or for good.