Street Art: Ever More Legit, Collectible and Pricey!

Selfie with Martha Cooper at the Bowery Mural Wall. Artist Lakwena in background


Street art (or now increasingly called Urban Art) has been my passion for years and it’s beyond weird for me to think about how elevated it’s become.

  • Huge article in the Financial Times (paywall) this past week about the Jean-Michel Basquiat show opening at the Barbican. And, of course, the FT is only writing about it because Basquiat is currently the top-selling contemporary artist at auction ($110 million for a street artist!).
  • But the most amazing thing this week was that I finally got to meet Martha Cooper, one of my heroes.
  • For those of you who don’t know Martha, she is the most famous documentarian of the graffiti/street art scene – in the world! She got her start photographing the New York City graffiti scene in the 1970s and 1980s.
  • I was so thunderstruck, I took her photo but forgot to ask if I could take a selfie with her. Ten blocks later, I ran back and she was still there, shooting Lakwena, the British street artist currently doing a new Bowery Mural. Fortunately, Martha agreed to the selfie.
  • And now that I have finally met her, I see her around the neighborhood all the time! Funny how that works.

Read on below for highlights about the business of street art from the Financial Times – they provide great perspective on what has made this art genre so major.

Per the Financial Times:

  • Street art, sometimes described within the broader category of Urban art, is still in its infancy in the market
  • Banksy confirmed he was the creator of two murals on the walls of the Barbican Centre (where Basquiat is showing).
  • Banksy wrote: “Major new Basquiat show opens at the Barbican — a place that is normally very keen to clean any graffiti from its walls.”

One of two new murals by Banksy at the Barbican Centre, London © PA Source: FT


  • People of all ages and demographics are attracted to street art, from schoolchildren to Hollywood’s glitterati, though the art world elite is still wavering.
  • Not so at Moniker, a fair dedicated to street art, which opens its eighth edition in London next month with three times more floor space (3,000 sq. ft) for its 29 exhibitors and seven installations.
  • The fair’s first New York edition opens in May 2018.
  • Social media has been a game changer. Instagram made the market for street art. Banksy has 1.7MM followers, Shepard Fairey has 1MM, Martha Cooper has 170K.
  • Hot-ticket contemporary artists such as JR (1MM followers) and Sterling Ruby are relentlessly urban.
  • Then of course there is Basquiat, who came to the art world’s attention through his graffiti collective SAMO© at the end of the 1970s.
  • Not only does Basquiat now have a major museum show in London, in May his 1982 “Untitled” sold for a record $98m ($110.5m with fees), and so he overtook Andy Warhol as the priciest American artist to sell at auction.

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