Collecting Street Art: Have Room on Your Wall for a Wall?

In Mr. Kramer's view, there are barely a half-dozen street artists whose work rises to the level of collectibility. Besides Banksy, he listed Mr. Brainwash, Invader, Os Gemeos and Shepard Fairey, who became widely known for his 2008 "Hope" poster of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Invader's work, Mr. Kramer said, has tripled in value in the last year or so. His works of video game characters sell for as much as $50,000.

Yet the value of any contemporary artist in the early stages of a career is hard to discern — and subject to auction sales and gallery shows. Are there greater risks and potential rewards for collecting street art? Is a work that can be displayed in someon e's home as valuable as the real thing on a wall in a city?

Jessica Goldman Srebnick, chief executive of Goldman Properties, a real estate developer, is in a unique position as a collector: She owns both the walls on which street artists paint and pieces that hang in her home.

Banksy's "SWAT van" sold for about $283,500. Credit Bonhams European Pressphoto Agency

Her company has offered street artists a wall on the corner of Houston Street and the Bowery in Manhattan since 2008. Three artists a year have the opportunity to use the space, and after their time is up, the wall is whitewashed so someone else can begin.

"We had recognized that Keith Haring was one of the first to create these public art walls," Ms. Srebnick said. "It was a nod to him and a nod to public art and street art."

Her firm has redeveloped a neighborhood in Miami, called Wynwood, with street art on over 40 walls. "We look at it as a gift to the neighborhood where we're going," she said. "But when we invite the artists, we collect their artwork."

Ms. Srebnick said it wasn't always easy to find pieces that would fit into her home. "There aren't a lot of artists who can paint a six-story building and also a 4-foot-by-4-foot canvas," she said.

For practical reasons, buying a wall can be problematic. Darren Julien, president and chief executive of Julien's Auctions, sold one that had held up a Los Angeles gas station a few years ago. It had a Banksy mural on it and cost $80,000 to remove. It sol d for $200,000 at auction.

But Mr. Julien noted that Banksy's authentication service, Pest Control Office, would not authenticate it or any piece of public art that had been removed. Those works were not meant for sale, after all, but for public enjoyment.

For those who do not have room for a SWAT van or a wall, there are prints. Mr. Julien said Banksy prints that were selling for $6,000 to $8,000 four years ago are now going for $20,000 to $30,000.

(Banksy's one attempt to sell his original work during his New York residency was a flop. He put his signature stencils on a table in Central Park with a sign that simply said, "Spray art." He sold just seven, for $60 apiece.)

Nicholas Korniloff, founder of Art Southampton, a fair being held this weekend on Long Island, said he once had six street artists paint 20-plus-foot canvases that hung over his Art Miami fair. An Alexis Diaz painting of a whale with palm trees coming out of its fins sold for $60,000.

"We told them to go big," he said. "It takes a certain buyer."

He said the work this weekend would be smaller, scaled for New York homes.

Beth Shak, a professional poker player, said she bought a piece called "Je t'aime" by Mr. Brainwash, a French-born street artist, in Miami a couple of years ago for around $50,000. She liked it so much that she commissioned him to do a similar image on one of her Birkin handbags. That, she said, took the bag's value, at least for insurance purposes, to $75,000 from $12,000.

A work in Ms. Srebnick's home: "Lady of the Leaf" by Lady Pink, an artist who once painted New York subway trains. Credit Scott McIntyre for The New York Times

Cey Adams, a graffiti artist in New York who was the creative director at Def Jam Recordings, said a couple recently commissioned him to paint a mural in their home on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. "They collect blue-chip art," he said. "They said, 'We need some street art in here.'"

He credited the internet, which maintained a history of his graffiti from the 1970s and 1980s, for his commissions.

Yet it is the very ease with which images can spread online that makes some art world insiders cautious about the long-term value of street art.

Mr. Kramer said the street art movement had m atured. "This movement is set already in art history," he said. "It doesn't mean there might not be another Banksy down the road. But there are a lot of copycat artists."

Mr. Taylor at Bonhams pointed to the gallery and auction system as arbiters of value and quality — though that system is what street artists initially rebelled against.

But it may also be the case that some street art is simply interesting to look at. "We take on artists who aren't collectible, and we price them at $400 to $600," Mr. Julien said. "Sometimes they take off."

With better-known street artists, Mr. Julien said he could see the values going from six figures to seven and eight figures, the way the works of an earlier g eneration of graffiti-influenced artists like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat did.

While the potential for appreciation is always a factor in any art purchase, the ease with which some artists' styles can be copied is also a concern. "It's still a laissez-faire business," Mr. Korniloff said. "You have to take the proper steps to educate yourself. Younger artists are very accessible. They have certificates of authentication."

Mr. Taylor pointed out that fakes exist in every genre. "No matter if it's a Titian or a Banksy, the rigors you would use to assess the provenance are the same."

Matthew Eller, a real estate lawyer and investor in Brooklyn, said he had built a collection of hundreds of pieces of street art by simply getting to know the artists themselves. Tha t is not much different from how collectors of contemporary artists in the early stages of their careers have done it for decades.

"You go to their shows and buy a print for $20," Mr. Eller said. "But pretty soon, they invite you out to their private opening. If you really like someone, there are a lot of different artists who have print sales once or twice a year, and it'll be 25 or 50 percent cheaper than a gallery."

That's not exactly buying a wall and carting it home, but it is in keeping with the spirit of street artists.

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