(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia)
On the rare occasions that I take the 7 train, I am always captivated by the views of Queens. While you are probably wondering what’s so great to look at in Queens, I could sit here for hours writing about how the borough is literally bursting with culture. Almost every corner of the globe is represented in Queens and the streets below the 7 train provide a glimpse into the most diverse borough of New York. Although I am a bit biased seeing as I was raised there, Queens is a sight to see if you are willing to look around.
Perhaps the most notorious sight along the 7 train is the view of the 200,000-square-foot factory building covered in aerosol art. Known as 5 pointz: The Institute of Higher Burnin’ or “5 pointz;” the warehouse is actually an outdoor exhibit serving as the aerosol art capital of New York and possibly the world. Just a few blocks from Court Square, the average 7 train patron sees the explosion of creativity every day on their way into and out of the city. I can’t help but notice how many people are still captivated by the overwhelming views of local and international aerosol art. While the view lasts for only a minute or two as the train makes its way to the next stop, you can almost always see commuters with their eyes still fixed in the direction of the warehouse. The image stays alive even after the building is out of sight.
Looking at the warehouse, one can see its long history reflected on its walls. Founded in 1993 as a way to discourage graffiti vandalism while simultaneously encouraging artists to display their work in a formal showcase, 5 pointz has grown into a phenomenon, curating work from artists all over the world. The world-class artwork has drawn both aerosol artists from as far as Japan, Spain, France and Brazil to the borough, and also legendary artists from multiple artistic genres. If you are lucky enough, you might see Hip Hop legends such as Doug E Fresh and Rahzel perform along with countless other artists such as B-Boys or other musicians and filmmakers who frequent 5 pointz.
The outdoor exhibit and its curator Jonathan Cohen, also known as Meres, have worked hard to distance 5 pointz from the term “graffiti” and its negative connotation. Aerosol art is created at 5 pointz. Unlike graffiti and random tagging, the artwork displayed at 5 pointz is meticulous and thought out; it takes time, dedication and talent and is admired from all over the world.
Every trip on the 7 enhances a different piece of art. One week I can’t keep my eyes off of the portraits and the next I am captivated by the mosaics. Perhaps the best part about 5 pointz is that it’s a guessing game; some of your favorite pieces can be up for years or for as little as a day, quickly replaced with something new and unexpected. What makes this building so admirable is that it facilitates all modes of art in a free, safe and most importantly, affordable environment. Not only is the outside of the building a place for people to express themselves but the inside of 5 pointz provides affordable studios for artists of all walks to create original works.
However, despite the literal and figurative vibrancy the warehouse adds to the Queens community, 5 pointz has been shrouded in controversy in recent years. Although all art depicted on the buildings is done legally with the permission of the building’s owner, 5 pointz has been scheduled to be demolished in order to make way for residential condos. The community has fought tirelessly to stop the destruction and is in the process of filing a federal suit against the building’s owners. A federal judge recently granted a 10-day restraining order to a group of artists, giving advocates more time, but my advice would be to make the trip to see the aerosol mecca before it’s too late.