Graffiti shouldn’t trump private property

When is a building to which you hold title not yours to tear down, if you choose? When you allow people to spray-paint graffiti on it.

Several years ago, graffiti painters began using a complex of New York City warehouses as their canvas. The owner, Gerald Wolkoff, permitted them to do so.

Paintings came and went — an estimated 11,000 of them, over the years. Then, in 2013, Wolkoff decided he had a better use for the land. He had the buildings demolished.

Twenty-one of the graffiti painters filed a lawsuit against him for doing so.

On Monday, they won. A federal court awarded them $6.7 million in damages.

It seems the court decided Wolkoff had broken a federal law, the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, in tearing down the buildings. That law prohibits destruction of art of “recognized stature,” even when it is owned by someone other than the artist.

Apparently some graffiti is art of “recognized stature.”

One wonders why none of the artists who used Wolkoff’s buildings complained when others painted over their work. Perhaps his deep pockets had something to do with that.

Crazy? You bet. But it’s the law of the land, so if you don’t stop someone from painting graffiti on a building you own, at least insist it be something no one could confuse with art.

We appreciate how some graffiti is artistic, but it is also ephemeral by nature — like a sand castle. When an artist chooses a canvas not in his or her own possession or control, that artist must accept what comes with time — or from the owner of the canvas, who may not want graffiti on it.