Graffiti mecca a must-see in NYC

Adena Andrews

Adena Andrews poses in front of one of the paintings that make up the 5Pointz art center.

Burning.

Writing.

Tagging.

Graffiti.

There are many names for it, but at 5Pointz in Queens, N.Y., it's called art.

Founded in 2001, 5Pointz is an outdoor art exhibit reserved for legal graffiti art. Artists use a 200,000-square-foot dilapidated factory in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens as a canvas for their sea of loud, maverick, neon designs.

During a rain delay, or if you don't have tickets for the day match, check out the landmark, named for its proximity to all five boroughs. It's 20 minutes from the U.S. Open and has appeared in dozens of feature films, music videos and has hosted numerous community events. Hip-hop heads, graffiti artists and fans of street art revere the hidden jewel as the "mecca of graffiti." The culture runs so deep that fans of the art have held weddings and funerals there.

"5pointz is not only graffiti, it's hip-hop in general," said Jonathan Cohen, graffiti legend and 5Pointz art gallery curator known by his signature tag, Meres One. "B-boying, break dancing, MC-ing and DJ-ing, you can find it all here on any day at 5Pointz. This is where you come to immerse yourself in the culture."

The gallery may look like an unorganized space, but there's a method to the artistic madness. Not any artist can paint at 5Pointz. They must get permission from Meres One, and the quality of their past work determines how big and prominent a space the artist will get and for how long. Big or small, your artwork will be rooted in worldwide street legend.

"I met a kid in Copenhagen who had wallpapered his room with images of 5Pointz," Meres One said. "Sometimes I can't believe how big this thing has become."

In just one hour on a dreary, muggy New York weekday evening, tourists from Germany, Switzerland, Saint Martin and England descended on the Institute of Higher Burnin' to observe a true street legend.

Meres One hopes to one day convert the building, which occupies an entire city block, into a graffiti art museum. But unlike the paintings on the building, the future of 5Pointz doesn't look too bright. Real estate moguls in the neighborhood want to tear down the factory and build pricey residences on the lot.

"If things go as planned, 2013 could be our last season," he said.

Meres One still presses on with big ideas for the gallery -- planning large scale, intricate pieces for walls of the factory.

Add this place to your checklist of things to see in New York City during the U.S. Open.