Popularity of Street Art

On the secondary market, the number of works sold gives a good indication of the popularity of an artist. In our ranking of the world’s Top 10 Contemporary artists by number of works sold last year, we find no less than four artists from the Street Art milieu. The commercial success of Keith Haring, Shepard Fairey, Banksy and Kaws suggests a clear trend among collectors and positions Street Art as one of the most dynamic sub-segments of today’s Contemporary Art Market.

Top 20 Contemporary artists by number of lots sold

Artist Lots sold Auction revenue
1 Takashi MURAKAMI (1962) 373 $8,059,701
2 Keith HARING (1958-1990) 350 $34,823,067
3 Shepard FAIREY (1970) 343 $952,518
4 BANKSY (1974) 279 $6,042,397
5 Damien HIRST (1965) 268 $30,071,188
6 Yoshitomo NARA (1959) 223 $35,878,411
7 Günther FÖRG (1952-2013) 171 $9,055,465
8 Philippe PASQUA (1965) 168 $718,670
9 KAWS (1974) 150 $6,273,765
10 Robert COMBAS (1957) 146 $2,440,123
11 William KENTRIDGE (1955) 121 $5,185,884
12 Peter HOWSON (1958) 121 $800,981
13 Renato Natale CHIESA (1947) 119 $126,444
14 Deborah HALPERN (1957) 118 $99,270
15 Hiroshi SUGIMOTO (1948) 109 $2,236,209
16 James RIZZI (1950-2011) 107 $172,733
17 David BROMLEY (1960) 102 $211,066
18 Norman Clive CATHERINE (1949) 101 $518,412
19 Robert MAPPLETHORPE (1946-1989) 99 $2,892,296
20 Jean-Michel BASQUIAT (1960-1988) 98 $313,520,830

Vibrant and creative, non-elitist and attractive to the mass media, Street Art is seducing an increasing number of collectors. Artists who are, or were, active in the urban environment, have adapted themselves to the commercial Art world, while the latter has adapted to them. Whether on bits of fencing or traditional canvases, their works are changing hands just as much on the social networks as in galleries and auction rooms.

The resulting strong demand concerns a whole new generation of artists: Brazilian Graffiti artists like OSGEMEOS (Otávio and Gustavo Pandolfo) are growing in stature  with a new record at Phillips ($310,000, Untitled, 22 November 2016 New York); KAWS is increasingly generating 6-digit results, even in Hong Kong ($410,000 for Seated Companion, 28 May 2017 at Phillips Hong Kong); his friend Barry MCGEE fetched over $100,000 in France (after New York and London) and Shepard FAIREY (aka Obey) has doubled his annual auction turnover since his involvement in Barack Obama’s election campaign in 2012.

The commercial successes reward an Art in tune with its time, an Art whose pioneers, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, were Graffiti artists in the New York subway before being acquired by major Art collections.

Indeed, there can be no discussion of Street Art that does not mention Jean-Michel BASQUIAT. The world’s highest priced Contemporary artist is also the symbol of an era’s creative vitality. His entourage, his evolution within the context of the highly speculative business/Art environment of 1980’s New York and the brevity and intensity of his life… all these  factors have contributed to the power of an oeuvre that is naturally limited in volume. Before he died of an overdose at the age of 27, Basquiat produced roughly 800 canvases and 1,500 drawings. Today these works enjoy demand from the major Art collectors and museums.

With demand exceeding supply, the prices for his best works are driven not so much by intrinsic market value as by the avidity of the world’s most powerful buyers with almost unlimited financial resources. Only the richest collectors can afford masterpieces valued in the tens of millions. Western public museums no longer have the resources to buy these works, and that includes the New York MoMA which effectively missed the Basquiat boat by failing to buy his works before his prices rocketed. Today, this represents one of the venerable institution’s major ‘gaps’.

Today his masterpieces are joining other collections, including that of the Japanese businessman Yusaku Maezawa who is actively preparing the opening of his Chiba Museum. On 18 May 2017, he caused a major Art world sensation by bidding a Basquiat work past the $100 million threshold for the first time ever. Determined to acquire Basquiat’s Untitled (1982) at Sotheby’s in New York, he ended up paying $110.5 million for a work that fetched $20,900 in 1984… which means the work multiplied in value 5,300 times in 33 years. The result takes Basquiat into the tiny club of artists whose works have publicly sold above $100 million. Today there are seven artists in this club: Picasso, Modigliani, Bacon, Giacometti, Munch, Warhol… and Basquiat, the only Contemporary artist in the list.

Basquiat is currently the ‘biggest’ Contemporary artist on the market – ahead of all the others – with an annual turnover of $313.5 million.

The popularity of Street Art owes much to Basquiat, and to BANKSY, whose media-hyped career opened a new chapter in Art history 10 years ago. The Banksy phenomenon has allowed Street Art to gain popularity and impose itself as one of the new profitable segments of the market. Victim of his own success (including two 7-digit results in 2008), Banksy’s own price index has suffered a severe correction with many of his works losing value since then. However, while Banksy-mania has considerably diminished at auctions (his annual turnover has halved since its peak in 2008), the artist remains very much in the media’s eye. He sells large quantities of prints (usually for a few hundred dollars), a tactic that ensures his popularity at the very least.

This year, Banksy was narrowly overtaken by KAWS, 35th in the global ranking of Contemporary artists by auction turnover, with a total of $6.2 million. Attracting just as much interest with his large sculptures (that regularly fetch more than $400,000) as with his small statues accessible for less than $200 (edition of 1,000), Kaws’ auction turnover has almost doubled in two years.

From New York to Hong Kong, works by Basquiat, Haring, Banksy, Kaws and JR are presented for sale in traditional Contemporary Art sales.  But in France, the auction houses Artcurial, Tajan, Aguttes and Leclere are responding to demand by hosting sales dedicated to Street Art. The leader in this field, Artcurial (which has registered a 54% proportion of foreign buyers in this sub-segment) celebrated 10 years of specialised sales in October 2016 with a first sale in Hong Kong focused on Comic Art and Street Art (From Paris to Hong Kong). The sale included a work by JR France’s most visible street artist at the moment (The Wrinkles of the City – Oeil n°10, collage on wood, $37,000$). Winner of the TED prize in 2011, JR is supported by Emmanuel Perrotin and has recently been exhibited at London’s Tate Modern, at the Venice Biennale, at Amsterdam’s museum of photography (FOAM) and at Rencontres d’Arles. His work is particularly in vogue at the moment and is appreciated by collectors and the public alike. His annual auction turnover reached $207,000 last year, just a few thousand short of being included in the global Top 500 ranking.

Fashion and momentum… support from international galleries… auction market structuring… Street Art is a strong trend involving a variety of collector profiles… some modest, others wealthy. And recent evolutions in this sub-segment, particularly in Asia, suggest it still has interesting growth potential.