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The Heat Index

Street Art Comes in From the Cold


Street Art Comes in From the Cold
Bambi Artist's Make Tea Not War, Miami (2013) earned $30,000 against an estimate of $25,000 to $30,000 earlier this month at Fine Art Auctions of Miami.


Street art seems to be having another comeback. There are museum shows on both coasts this season, and another auction has produced solid numbers. The question is, when can the category escape its cycle of peaks and valleys that dates back more than 30 years and finally settle onto a more predictable path? As with any nascent market, the answer depends on a complicated calculation based on the development of a serious and diverse collector base, the dispersement of artists among galleries to create both breadth and depth of representation, and a dialogue among curators and institutions seeking to define the canon. It's always a frustratingly slow and unpredictable process—video art is just finding its market footing—but the signs seems to be good for street.

Fine Art Auctions of Miami scored some press for their second annual category sale on February 18 by selling Banksy's Kissing Coppers (ca. 2005) for $575,000, while two other works from the elusive Brit's sojourn in New York last October were bought in. More than one reporter saw the conflicting results as signs of an unsteady market. But they missed the fact that Coppers, one of the artist's most iconic works, was priced right—with a $500,000 to $700,000 estimate—while a similarly sized chunk of wall with less memorable imagery of a red ballon carried expectations too high with a $400,000 to $600,000 estimate (and a reserve presumably between $300,000 and $400,000). Like Coppers, the majority of the works sold within or near their estimates, whether the artists are new to the sceen or came from an earlier generation like Kenny Scharf, whose spraypainted metal shutters brought just under $11,000. Naive watchers worry when prices don't leapfrog estimates, but the fact that specialists can predict the market is a sign of maturity, and that's good for all artists' longterm prospects. 

That is not to say that everything is slow and steady. Earlier in the month, Phillips London set new records for a couple artists associated with California street art. A canvas by Retna fetched just over $30,000, while Barry McGee's composite brought more than $120,000. Doyle New York has similarly found success at their semi-annual street art sales, with artists who straddle the line between street culture and gallery scene. Last November's event was led by a painting by Martin Wong, whose career is experiencing a revival almost 15 years after his death (his estate is handled by P.P.O.W.). His collection of first generation graffiti art by key figures like Futura 2000Lady Pink, and Keith Haring is on display at the Museum of the City of New York through August 24, and his own work will appear in a special section of the Whitney Biennial curated by Julie Ault

On the West Coast, the El Segundo Museum of Art—a project of Eva and Brian Sweeney, whose 500-piece collection ranges from Claude Monet to Chuck Close—is continuing a project begun by a better-known institution. The Getty Research Institute last year released LA Liber Amicorum, a book compiling the artwork of 150 area graffiti artists. Now the ESMOA is inviting many of those participants to take over the institution and leave their marks, quite literally, on its walls. The market doesn't exist in a vacuum, and such projects are essential to putting street art on a sound footing for decades to come.


— While the Swiss may be bent on subsuming the entire global contemporary art market under the Art Basel brand, the French seem content merely colonizing Los Angeles. The vaunted Paris Photo fair arrived last April, bringing many of the world's best photography galleries to the Paramount studios lot. For its sophomore outing next month, that fair will be joined by the first West Coast edition of PAD, the fair formerly known as Pavilion of Art and Design, which has built its brand in Paris and London around high-end eclecticism. (That fair's 2011 venture into Gotham ended in a public spat with rival fair organizers and the Gauls withdrawing from the field.) Now FIAC, Paris's signature contemporary art fair, has announced it will be joining the fête in 2015. No word yet on what galleries will be attending, but April in Los Angeles is starting to feel a lot like Paris.

— Is red the new black? Before selling Gerhard Richter's stunning cadmium Wand (Wall) for $28.7 million a couple weeks back, Alex Branczik, head of contemporary art at Sotheby's London, tried to get some ink by making a few passing comments about the allure of red, and its special meaning to some Asian buyers. An AP reporter took the bait, writing a somewhat breathless take on the power—and value—of the color. After a few raised eyebrows, appraiser Danielle Rahm, writing at Forbes, tried to diplomatically put the issue to bed: "Does red art sell better? Yes. Especially right around Valentine’s Day."

— Like a drug dealer right out of a cautionary after-school special, our anonymous friends over at the site formerly known as sellyoulater gave out a first dose of algorithmically ranked emerging artists for free last month, and now they are saying it's time to pay for more—and it won't come cheap. Each quarter (just ahead of the contemporary auctions), new listings will be available to the first 10 people willing to write a check for $3,500 to unknown parties. The rest of us will have to wait until the auctions are over, when the rankings will be made public so we can be amazed at their accuracy. Our skepticism hasn't abated, but we do appreciate that they took our critique of their name to heart and came up with new brand whose second entendre is subtler, yet more biting. You can now check out their wares at

— Senators Tammy Baldwin and Edwin Markey have joined representative Jerry Nadler in moving ahead with a droit de suite bill—revised and renamed the American Royalties Too (A.R.T.) act—that will seek to charge sellers at auction a five percent royalty to be given to the artist.


— The film Watermark (2013) by Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky, whose landscapes maintain an extraordinary balance between conceptual rigor and aesthetic achievement, has been nominated as the best Canadian feature by both the Vancouver and Toronto critics associations. On the occasion of his new exhibition opening this weekend at the Vancouver Art Gallery, he has donated 34 works to the museum.

Dan Graham will be the next artist to take over the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, when a site specific installation debuts on April 29. As with the landmark pavilion that spent nearly 20 years atop Dia Art Foundation's West 22nd Street building, this work will use steel-framed reflective glass so as to incorporate the visitor into both the surrounding environment and the work itself.

— The winners of International Center of Photography's annual Infinity Awards, which will be presented on April 28, will include James Welling in the art category and Jürgen Schadeberg for a lifetime achievement. Samuel A. James, who has developed a body of work documenting the oil industry's exploitation of the Niger River delta and its people, takes the young photographer award.

— The Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, which bills its International exhibition as the country's oldest biennial survey of contemporary art from around the world, has used acquisitions of works by featured artists to build its collection. Among the latest round of artists to see works acquired in connection with the current iteration (closing March 16) are Nicole Eisenman, Mark Leckey, Frances Stark, Joel Sternfeld, and Paulina Olowska


— Recently departed Swiss Institute curator Piper Marshall will be curating half a dozen shows each year for the next three years at Mary Boone Gallery in Chelsea. 

— German performance artist, video maker, and provocateur John Bock will be represented by Berlin powerhouse Sprüth Magers.

Turner Prize Winner Mark Wallinger has joined the growing roster at Hauser & Wirth.

— Photographer Wolfgang Tillmans, who left Andrea Rosen Gallery after two decades, will be showing in New York with David Zwirner


— Kicking off the fun of a combined Armory and Biennial week this year will be a panel discussion at Phillips's Park Avenue Showroom on the increasingly unavoidable topic of art as an alternative asset class. The auctioneer's contemporary specialist Benjamin Godsill will share the microphone with gallerist Marianne Boesky and collector Stafford Broumand at 3:00 on March 3, perfectly timed so that you can check out the preview of wares coming under the hammer on March 6. RSVP to 


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