The 21st century has seen an urban liberation of art media, pushing through the conventional parameters of paper, cardboard and canvas and on to pavement, sidewalks, subways and the bricks of buildings. As the personification of movement, freedom and spontaneity, Street Art has taken centre stage, both literally in scale and visibility and in its burgeoning popularity.
Since the hip-hop crews of Philadelphia and New York turned graffiti into an elaborate language, encrypted in a range of unique styles, Street Art has become an established art form. While its very public presence may scream manifesto, perhaps with subversive intent, Street Art nonetheless promotes a sense of the uncompromising, a radical ethos that consistently attracts clusters of fervent supporters throughout the world. However, not until recently has there been such interest in the genre.
Main image: INVADER (French, b. 1969), ALIAS NY_124. Ceramic tiles on glass panel. ⅛ x 19½ in (61.2 x 49.5 cm). Executed in 2013. This work was offered in the First Open: Post-War and Contemporary Art auction on March 4 2016 at Christie’s New York
Works from the masterful integrators of popular culture, Abstract and Neo-Expressionism — Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Banksy, KAWS, Invader, to name but a few — now are in high demand. Since Shepard Fairey’s iconic ‘Hope’ poster from 2008 and the groundbreaking show on the international history of graffiti and Street Art at MoCA in 2011, Street Art’s popularity has skyrocketed, evidenced by record-breaking sales in recent years.
Here, Han-I Wang, Head of the First Open sale for Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art department, and Lindsay Griffith, Head of First Open: Editions for the Prints department, offer guidance for the emerging collector.
1. Familiarise yourself with common themes
KAWS (b. 1974), Untitled (MBFG4). Acrylic and oil on canvas. 58 x 48 in (147.3 x 121.9 cm). Painted in 2014. This work was offered in the First Open: Post-War and Contemporary Art auction on March 4 2016 at Christie’s New York and sold for $173,000
As a way to develop an identity, street artists often revisit a theme or rely on a repeated technique to create a recognizable trademark that forms an essential part of their visual vocabulary. Keith Haring develops his man figure; Jean-Michel Basquiat interweaves symbols, epigrams and mask-and-skull images; Banksy fashions irreverent, politically-charged subjects using black-and-white spray-painted stencils; KAWS x’s out the eyes of recognizable characters, such as Snoopy or the Michelin Man. When buying, consider selecting works that bring not only a part of the maker but also a slice of the interpretive undercurrent into the private realm.
2. Size matters
Keith Haring (1958–1990), Untitled, from Free South Africa, 1985. This work was offered in our First Open: Editions auction on 1 March 2016 at Christie’s New York and sold for $13,750
Some street artworks are site-specific such as Keith Haring’s infamous ‘Crack Is Wack’, a 1986 public project still visible along the Harlem River Drive in New York City. As a way to represent the whole, a distinct element of the work may be replicated in a more portable form. Keith Haring’s iconic figures and symbols repeat throughout his oeuvre, finding themselves not only on his murals and canvases but also in higher numbers on his screen prints. For other manageable options, KAWS’s collectible toys and many of Invader’s tile mosaics are easily transferable from room to room.
3. Imitations are everywhere
Banksy (b. 1974), Sid Vicious. Stencil spraypaint and acrylic on canvas. 36⅛ x 36⅛ in (91.7 x 91.7 cm). Executed in 2000. This work was offered in the First Open: Post-War and Contemporary Art auction on March 4 2016 at Christie’s New York
Street Art can be easily duplicated. As stencils can be used and infinitely reused, the question of originality that plagues all art becomes particularly critical for this genre. Consult a specialist. For prints, it is extremely important that they match the catalogue raisonné for the artist or compare well to other examples from the edition.
When considering value, edition size is also critical. The democratic nature of Street Art means that the number of images produced can be quite large — this is why some Street Art is priced quite low. Works that have hand-additions or that are from a smaller number of productions available are valued considerably higher.
4. Consider condition
These overtly physical works are subject to natural disasters: intact one day, only to be torn apart by wind and rain the next. Where restoration is not intended for Street Art, due to the nature of the very media used by street artists, condition severely impacts perceived value.
KAWS (b. 1974), Untitled. Acrylic on canvas. 16 x 16 in (40.6 x 40.6 cm). Painted in 1999. This work was offered in the First Open: Post-War and Contemporary Art auction on March 4 2016 at Christie’s New York and sold for $43,750
5. Know the community
With Street Art being a relatively new movement in art history, it’s important to know what came before in order to understand where it’s going. Most are aware that graffiti – and more specifically, Wild Style – represented the nascent form of Street Art in the 1970s, but Pop Art also paved the way, incorporating many of the same topics for the first time, from mass consumerism to elements of pop culture. Pop Art giant Andy Warhol played mentor to Basquiat; Warhol and Haring were long-time collaborators. Relative newcomers KAWS and Invader have, in many ways, accepted the baton.
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