10 Works of Street Art That Went Commercial


Street art purists grumbled this week when the Sincura Group, a concierge company in London, held a members-only event to exhibit Slave Labour, a spray painting by the artist Banksy, which was eventually sold for more than £750,000 ($1.1 million). In an expression of self-assurance that bordered on defensiveness, Sincura’s director told Bloomberg that this was mission accomplished.

“We know the sale of this Banksy has caused great controversy,” he said, referring to the people who lived in Wood Green, London, where the mural first appeared, and who wanted the artwork back. “We’ve done our due diligence and there is no legal issue.”

The sale was a reminder that even as the debates continue — over street art’s legitimacy as an art form and to whom it rightly belongs — prices for the good stuff are only going up.

This is certainly true for Banksy, probably the highest-earning street artist alive. The sale of Slave Labour is dwarfed by the performance of Keep It Spotless, a defaced “spot painting” by Damien Hirst, which sold at Sotheby’s New York in February 2008 for $1,870,000.

Banksy, Keep It Spotless, 2007. Household gloss and spray paint on canvas.84 1/4 x 120 1/8 in.ᅠ

[Image via Flickr]

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled, 1981.

[Image via Artnet.com]

As an artist who pioneered the use of a graffitist’s skill set in an über-professional context, the late Jean-Michel Basquiat is one of the genre’s relative elders. The reverence for his work continues to reflect in its auction performance; last year, his work Untitled from 1981 sold for $16.3 million, well above the $12 million presale high estimate. It remains the highest amount ever paid for the artist’s work.

Margaret Kilgallen, Natadora, 1997. Acrylic on wood, 11 1/2 x 8 in.

[Image via Doylenewyork.com]

Margaret Kilgallen may be a relative unknown in street art’s forest of hype, but her work has been recognized since the mid-1990s by museums like the Whitney in New York and the Hammer in Los Angeles. And occasionally, her work succeeds to impress on the auction block. At Doyle’s Street Art sale last October, her Natadora sold for $28,125 — more than five times the high estimate.

Shepard Fairey, Untitled, 2004. Decoupage on Vespa ET2 scooter. 52 x 67 x 35 in.

[Image via Doylenewyork.com]

At the same auction where Natadora made its surprise showing, a highlight of the day was Shepard Fairey’s Untitled, which sold for $12,500. Like the Kilgallen, this was several times its estimated sale price.

Keith Haring, Untitled, 1981. Acrylic on canvas. 88 3/4 x 45 in.

[Image via Sothebys.com]

Like Basquiat’s, the late Keith Haring’s work has been recognized for long enough that it can hold its own among lots from painters and sculptors in more traditional media. At Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction in New York last fall, this Untitled from 1981 went for $650,500.

Banksy, Simple Intelligence Testing, 2000. Oil on canvas laid onto board, five parts. 36 in x 36 in. each.

[Image via Streetart101.blogspot.com]

One of the most expensive works of street art ever sold was Banksy’s Simple Intelligence Testing, which went under the gavel at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Day Auction in London in February 2008. Though the original estimate was £100,000 – £150,000 GBP ($153,000 – $229,000), the hammer price, with the buyer’s premium, was £636,500 ($975,000).

Faile, London Test #2, 2006. Acrylic on canvas. 48 x 36 in.

[Image via Doylenewyork.com]

Comprised of Patrick McNeil and Patrick Miller, the erudite pair that call themselves Faile (an anagram for “a life”) are probably the only artists to do jail time for vandalism before landing a collaboration with the New York City Ballet, as they did in last month. Their work London Test #2 from 2006 sold for $27,500 at Doyle New York.

Shepard Fairey. Darby Crash, 2012. Acrylic and collage on paper. 42 1/2 x 30 in.

[Image via Doylenewyork.com]

Continuing to increase his profile among art collectors (not to mention his impact on certain presidential elections), Shepard Fairey created Darby Crash in 2012, which was sold in April for $28,125.

[Image via Libération.fr]

For a charity auction for the Paris-based Fondation Abbé Pierre, the Rolls Royce belonging to the former French soccer superstar Eric Cantona was decorated by JonOne and sold at Artcurial’s January auction with an early estimate of €20,000 ($26,600). It outperformed expectations by leaps and bounds, crossing the finish line at €125,000 ($163,400).

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Museum Security (Broadway Meltdown), 1983. Medium acrylic, oilstick and paper collage on canvas. 84 in. x 84 in.

[Image via Artvalue.com]

Not far behind the performance of his 1981 Untitled is Basquiat’s Museum Security (Broadway Meltdown), which was the top lot at Christie’s International in London February 2013. While originally estimated to sell for £7,000,000 – £9,000,000 ($10,948,000 – $14,076,000), the painting finally left the room for £9,337,250 ($14,603,459).