As late as 25 years ago, it would have been laughable to consider ‘street art’ to be ‘fine art’ in the business of buy and selling art.
Brash, quick, and scrawled anywhere that took spray paint, graffiti was initially a nonexistent market simply because it blasted from obscurity to saturation in the blink of an eye. As the rise of the noble graffiti artists took off, so did the effort to end it all. Arrests for graffiti and the prompt destruction of works escalated considerably and, perhaps as an unanticipated consequence, the police created the needed regulated market, which not only enhanced the allure of graffiti, but also set it up for future capitalization potential for both an artist and the buyer- rarity and recognition.
The talent was one part artistry and one part getting it done without getting caught. The rise of celebrity graffiti artists and a total refinement of the craft further finessed the medium to true marketability. As the subject matters became increasingly timely, graffiti remains one the most reactionary mediums, providing a visual response to any given situation, often instantly. Critically, a great street artist had awareness (this includes context) and conceptual excellence rather than a knack for visual satisfaction or realism. Sometimes there wasn’t time; sometimes it wasn’t the point. Street art became a truly open medium that found its regulation become its lifeline. Having it all play out in public space was enabling and powerful. If people were upset about graffiti, it was doing its job. It was fortunate over time that the mystique and criminality of ‘street art’ fell away to reveal the (aforementioned) fundamentally new art technique. For artists, the ‘acceptability’ has changed the nature of street graffiti. For one, commissioned graffiti works, as ‘community enhancers’ is a total backtrack on prior belief that graffiti only damaged a neighborhood’s value. Secondly, with the reconciliation with community organizers, graffiti is finding itself on more and more private and public property without issue, a saturation of the market is happening again. Only this time, graffiti and street art as a whole became exploited by corporate America, which finally let the street artist actually make a living doing what they love.
As a result, graffiti artists took to the canvas, aware of what they had: an intimate knowledge of street culture, an appetite for improvisation, and a knack for wit. Fast forward to now, and not only has street art been embraced, it’s getting recognized for its contributions in the betterment of the world. Street art is seeing considerable investment at auctions and street artists are turning into overnight sensations. Leading the effort is The Jam Master Jay Foundation, which has tasked itself with a simple effort: every child deserves equal access to the arts. It was critical for the foundation to embrace street art as a positive medium and by hosting auctions around the nation that featured this kind of work exclusively; it’s acted as validation for practicing artists and as inspiration for future artists.
Buzz Art Auction started in Miami with this simple premise and blossomed wildly, often setting the standard for street art. With their first auction in NYC, it was a new buyer to consider. New York taste is different; it’s more liberal, while being more attentive to cultural detail. As evidence of street art’s art world cred, flipping through the catalogue revealed ambitious estimates for some of the finest street artists in the world, from BK The Artist to King Saladeen. The works were composed and essential, with intelligent subject matters, innovative juxtapositions; raw statements. The essence of street art as fine art. Proceeds from the auction ultimately went to The Jam Master Jay Foundation, Lisa Project, and Ronald McDonald House Charities. Bombay Sapphire provided drinks. Bombay Sapphire has made a considerable effort to embrace the arts, as the brand is entering its 6th year conducting the Artist’s Series, which acts as a grassroots talent search for emerging artists, in conjunction with the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation. Bombay’s commitment to the arts is admirable, and it feels logical for the brand to have a role in Buzz Art Auction, as the motivations are similar.
The event had live works by Bisco and Cey Adams, and a celebrity guest appearance by Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, who gave an impassioned speech on the drive and goal of the night, “Art fills in the gaps that government and religion leave behind”. Ultimately, everything sold, exceeding the estimated value a several occasions. While street art isn’t pulling numbers like the modernists, it’s a considerable feet that street art is going to auction at all. There is a respectable shift in the perception that is nothing but a string of incredible events. The beauty of street art isn’t the iconography of a single piece – street artists tend not to have a magnum opus for which their known. Rather, street artists are remembered for their personalities as depicted through work, their style; their interests. It is in this medium that this is most prevalent. In the past, creating high-risk pieces, in the dead of night, hoping against hope of not getting caught – was an act of manipulation and finding a way to get it done. But these days, paradoxically, getting caught is going to be what will secure street art’s place in the continuum of art history.