Street Art is à la mode



Born on the streets of New York in the 1960s and incarnating rebelliousness and non-conformity, tags, graffiti and stencils have found their way into galleries, auction rooms and collections. Today, street art is clearly fashionable having earned its stars in numerous exhibitions at venerable institutions like the Tate Modern in London (Street art, 23 May – 25 August 2008) and the Grand Palais of Paris (Tag, 27 March – 26 April 2009).

Demand for this type of art was insatiable over most of the last decade, generating a 195% increase in its price index over the period as a whole. However, it peaked in January 2008 before declining quite substantially with the crisis. Since 2008, its prices have contracted 40% back to 2005 levels.

London: capital of Street art
Since 2000, the centre of gravity for Street art seems to have shifted from New York to London, attracted particularly by the mysterious BANKSY who was supposedly born in Bristol in 1974 (but whose date of birth and real identity are apparently the subject of considerable uncertainty). His tags first appeared in London around 2001. Since then, he has become an anonymous star continuing to spray-paint his stencils in public places all over the world (London, Barcelona, Paris, New York, Palestine, etc.). In November 2003, one of Banksy’s works appeared at auction for the first time and the price was accessible to even the smallest budgets. His painting Keep it real sold for £800. On 18 May 2005, a message on his website announcing the exhibition of a remarkable rock engraving at the British Museum launched a treasure hunt… and the media eagerly joined the fray. Stars like Christina Aguilera or Angelina Jolie started collecting his work. Banksy was suddenly hot stuff! In October 2007, The Rude Lord, a recent work (2006), sold for £270,000 ($550,000) at Sotheby’s! In just 2 years, his auction prices had acquired an additional 3 zeros. Then on 14 February 2008, Keep it spotless, a stencil on a canvas making a strong reference to the Spot paintings of the UK’s other art market star Damien Hirst, fetched $1.7m. That was his first seven-figure result (and so far his last). As one of the hottest artists in the Contemporary art field, Banksy’s market suffered a substantial meltdown in 2009. The number of his works offered at auctions during 2009 fell to a third of its 2008 number.
Bansky’s success has encouraged a whole generation of young London artists who have received notable support from Bonhams with their Urban Art sale and from Dreweatts London branch. The two auction houses orchestrated thematic sales during 2008 riding on the wave initiated by the Tate Modern exhibition. The Street art on offer included older works by Jean-Michel BASQUIAT as well as works by the new generation artists like Nick WALKER, FAILE, Adam NEATE, MAU MAU, CEPT, BEEJOIR, CYCLOPS and Guy DENNING.

Paris joins the movement
In 2009, two Paris exhibitions contributed to the general public’s awareness of Street Art: Le Tag at the Grand Palais in the spring, followed by Né dans la rue – Graffiti at the Fondation Cartier from July to November. Stimulated by so much news, the auctioneers Artcurial, Cornette de Saint Cyr and Pierre Bergé & Associés quickly joined the sales trend of an art form that perfectly corresponds to a new generation of burgeoning collectors. Indeed, in the current climate, the market for Street art has all the right ingredients: it is financially accessible, particularly dynamic and its key figures like Keith HARINGand Jean-Michel BASQUIATgenerate very inspiring results. Small format works by MISSTIC can be acquired from $500, original works by CRASH, SPEEDY GRAPHITO, DAZE, INVADER, FUTURA 2000, QUIK and Xavier Prou (alias BLEK LE RAT) usually fetch between 1 and 10 thousand dollars. A little further up the price ladder there are large formats by JONONE (Jonone) which sell for between $10,000 and $40,000.