From 1960s New York graffiti boom to iconic Banksy auctions, street artists have come a long way, from arrests and vandalism charges to acceptance and recognition in the art world. Once considered worthless and disdained, street art is now as appreciated as any other art form. It’s exhibited at renowned venues, it’s reaching millions at auctions and has museums dedicated to the genre. However, even with the rising popularity of street art, collectors still have many questions related to the genre. In this blog post, we will try to answer some of these questions and address doubts that are troubling street art collecting newbies.
Image by Pascal Bernardon via Unsplash
What Exactly are you Buying, When you Buy a Street Art Piece?
Well, it depends. Street artists are known to produce a variety of pieces ranging from original artworks, to editions, prints, toys, apparel... Artworks that are originally spray-painted on the walls are usually reproduced and sold on the market as limited edition prints. The price of a print is determined by the reputation of the artist, the size of the edition and the artist’s signature. Prints by celebrated artists, signed prints and those made in smaller editions cost more, than large edition prints, unsigned prints and prints by unknown artists. To know more about how prints are priced, check out our blog focused on determining the value of prints.
Apart from reproductions, street artists sometimes make original artworks, pieces that cannot be found on the streets. These artworks can be made in any form whatsoever (sculptures, prints, paintings, etc.). Despite being one-of-a-kind, these artworks are usually made in the artist’s recognizable style and maintain a connection with the rest of his or her work.
Finally, artists sometimes produce branded everyday objects. Street artist KAWS, for example, is known for his art toys named Companions, while Shepard Fairey founded his own streetwear brand, Obey. Japanese pop art star Takashi Murakami collaborated with big fashion brands like Vans, Louis Vuitton, and Uniqlo. The artist also designed a variety of mass-produced items - pillows, pins, shoes, shirts and toys featuring his colourful characters.
Most people agree that the huge versatility of street artworks is one of its strongest points. Prices range between several dozens of dollars for collectible items like toys, skateboard decks, and figurines, to several million dollars for original one-of-a-kind art pieces.
That way, even if you can’t afford an original street artwork, you can always buy an item from the same artist. While more expensive pieces will undoubtedly capture the attention of wealthy collectors, affordable prints and figurines are a great way to start or to freshen up your collection.
Image by Jon Tyson via Unsplash
How to Know if Street Art is Original?
Street art is very “exposed”. Everyone walking down the street can see an image sprayed on the wall. Due to its grand visibility, street art is vulnerable to forgeries. Sometimes it’s easy even for an average artist to reproduce the artwork he or she saw on the street, and sell it as an original. To prevent other people from forging their works, many street artists have established authenticating companies. Celebrated street artist Banksy, for example, founded Pest Control, a company that verifies his works for a fee.
Others have outsourced their authentication efforts by picking a gallery to represent them. Since street art has been a part of the mainstream for a while, top street artists can easily find gallery representation. Artists like JR and OSGEMEOS enjoy representation by major galleries who take care of authentication and battling forgeries for them. To ensure that the art you bought is original, ask for an artist-signed certificate of authenticity. Since many of top street artists are very much alive, getting an artist to sign a certificate and confirm the artwork’s authenticity, shouldn’t be a problem.
Can you Buy a Street Artwork Directly Off a Wall?
Technically, yes. An increasing number of street artworks is being removed from the walls and sold at auctions, even without the artist’s permission. But how is this even legal? When an artwork is sprayed on private property (let’s say, someone’s house or a pub) it belongs to the owner of the wall. The owner can preserve it, remove it or repaint it. However, if an artwork is made by a prominent artist, many owners choose to conserve it and then sell it on the market. The artwork is then removed from the wall, in a joint effort of art experts and professional building companies to ensure no damage is done to the piece.
Should you buy artworks chiseled off the wall? That is completely up to you. Some people think that buying art removed from a wall is a way of preserving it for future generations. Art that remains in public space is prone to vandalism, humidity, pollution, and other factors of decay. By taking it off a wall and placing it in perfect storage conditions the artwork can last for eternity. Others think that art should be left where it was meant to be, as removing art from public spaces disrupts the artists’ vision. According to this opinion, you should restrain yourself for purchasing art that’s not meant to be sold by its creator.
This is considered unethical. Street artworks are meant to be displayed on the streets, to embellish a certain neighbourhood or serve a community. When you remove it from the streets, you are going against the desires of an artist and you are depriving a community of art that’s made for public display. Many artists are outraged to see their outdoor works, moved indoors. In 2016, prominent street artist Blu even destroyed some of his works in Bologna, when he realised that they are being increasingly removed from the walls and placed in exhibitions. Artists combat street art removal and sale, by refusing to authenticate these pieces. However, since many artworks are well-documented in the press and social media, they still end up at auctions, selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Image by Matthew T Rader via Unsplash
What Should you Buy?
As with any other art form, when it comes to street art the reputation of the artist is often the main determinator of the artwork’s price. The art market is dominated by several important figures (Banksy, Obey, KAWS…) and their artworks are always a good buy as they are expected to rise in price. However, there are many other emerging artists out there worth collecting, like Conor Harrington, Sara Erenthal or Ben Slow to name a few. Another way to go about collecting your street art is by purchasing artworks from underrated gems of the past. Artists like Rammellzee and Futura, for example, created some outstanding, pioneering artworks in the 70s and 80s, and their art can still be found at affordable prices.
With booming popularity and a growing base of devoted supporters around the world, street art is a force to be reckoned with. Hope this blog post explained some of the ambiguities about the street art scene and that it will inspire you to go out and find some street artworks to enrich your collection.