AN EXPERT’S TAKE ON THE RAPIDLY GROWING URBAN ART CATEGORY
In 2017, Heritage Auctions became one of the first major auction houses to introduce Urban Art as a stand-alone department. Fast-forward four years, and the Urban Art market has become one of the hottest categories among collectors, especially the younger generation.
Newcomers might be asking what exactly is Urban Art, and what differentiates it from Modern & Contemporary Art? Generally speaking, Modern Art refers to artists born between 1821 and 1910, and Contemporary Art covers artists born between 1945 and 1974. Urban, Street and Graffiti artists are those born after 1975 who developed their careers outside the traditional gallery model. Drawing inspiration from urban environments and everyday reality, these artists utilize the power of social media to share their work with a global audience. “Bold,” “experimental” and “highly democratic” are a few of the words used to describe this exciting artistic movement.
To learn more about this burgeoning category, we sat down with Walter Ramirez, Heritage Auctions’ Associate Specialist of Urban Art in New York.
How did you become interested in this niche collecting category?
What drew me to Urban Art was working at Heritage, if I’m being honest. I was already aware of the market, the artists and the movements prior to becoming a specialist, but over the last few years, I became more involved with collecting, going to shows, seeking out specific sites like graffiti walls or a sculpture in the city and just being part of the culture.So much of what makes Urban Art stand apart from other artistic movements is that the artists use public spaces to tell their story. Whether that involves using the side of a building as their canvas or encouraging creative collaboration through Instagram, their art is a direct reflection of what is happening in our world today.
To what do you attribute the immense growth of Urban Art?
The appeal of this category is how accessible it is to collectors of all ages, social statuses and genders. Not only is it a great entry point to the collecting space because of the various price points, but the depth of mediums represented empowers collectors to discover new, emerging artists.The digital revolution is also a major contributing factor to this category’s growth. Social media platforms like Instagram or online publications such as Hypebeast and Complex are popular avenues by which urban artists gain prominence. One attribute that seems to be forgotten is the connection between artists and collectors. Artists now are very accessible as we know how they look, where they operate out of, who is friends with them and more.
Apart from blue-chip artists like Banksy, KAWS, Shepard Fairey, etc., what artists are on your radar?
Some artists on my radar are Roby Dwi Antono out of Indonesia, Ly out of Japan, Adriana Oliver from Spain and Yusuke Hanai, a Japanese artist who operates out of the West Coast. I’m also keeping an eye out for digital artists and NFTs.
What has been your favorite piece that Heritage has sold in the past year?
My favorite piece from 2021 is a work titled Sweeper by Martin Whatson. We sold this piece in our Nov. 9 Urban Art Signature® sale. The work exceeded its $10,000-$15,000 estimate and is something that must be seen in person to appreciate it for what it’s worth.
What advice do you have for new collectors who are interested in acquiring Urban Art?
Keep up with galleries, artists and trends that you see on social media platforms or within your local community. And, of course, watch our auctions closely as we are always showcasing new artists who can very well be the next hot thing.
What trends do you see in the market? Any predictions for 2022?
It’s probably no surprise, but I’m seeing a lot more NFTs in the market. Heritage has offered NFTs in our Modern & Contemporary and Sports Collectibles auctions, but there is such a massive crossover between Urban Art and the digital world that it is the obvious move for us going forward.