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.
Works from the masterful integrators of popular culture, Abstract and Neo-Expressionism — Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Banksy, Mr BRAINWASH and Stik, 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, Prints and Multiples specialists Charles Scott and James Baskerville offer guidance for the emerging collector.
Street artists often revisit a theme or rely on a repeated technique in their work, creating a recognisable trademark that forms an essential part of their visual vocabulary. Haring developed his man figure; Jean-Michel Basquiat combined symbols and epigrams; and Banksy fashions irreverent, politically-charged subjects. Stik continues to hone his six-line, two-dot figures, and as this imagery becomes increasingly iconic, the market takes notice: Up on the Roof (above) achieved £150,000 in the September 2018 Prints and Multiples sale in London, a record price for a work by the artist.
Some street artworks are site-specific, such as 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. Haring’s iconic figures and symbols repeat throughout his oeuvre, finding themselves not only on his murals and canvases but also on his screen prints. This is also true for artists such as Stik or Banksy.
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
Street Art is, by its very nature, exposed to the elements more than other kinds of art. Restoration may be possible — some artists, like Stik, make a point of personally touching up their works in situ whenever they can — but some level of wear is to be expected. Collectors should keep in mind that, as with any kind of artwork, condition may impact the perceived value of a piece.
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.