Five For Friday: Heritage Auctions’ March 24th Urban Art Sale

Rebekah Kaufman
Published on
Shepard Fairey (b. 1970) May Day Flag Red (Version 2), 2010, Stencil and mixed media collage on canvas
32 x 50 inches. Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Auction Daily:

Please give our readers a brief introduction to the category of “Urban Art.” When did the genre become popular, and why?

Leon Benrimon, Director of Modern and Contemporary Art at Heritage Auctions:

The Urban Art category has existed in theory since artists began using public spaces to create artworks. Artists like Keith Haring and Jean Michel Basquait are most closely tied with the start, but graffiti writers like Crash, Daze, and Futura helped pioneer the movement as well. In the past decade, interest in the category has grown and created the need for a separate auction category. The popularity of the category is linked to the newest generation of collectors who don’t necessarily look to the traditional art world (art galleries, museums, and institutions) to inform their decisions about who to collect. This generation has moved away from the collecting style of their parents. They grew up on Michael Jordan sneaker culture, rap music, and street culture, so the draw to Urban art is clear. 

Auction Daily:

Who are some of the biggest artist names in Urban Art? Do Urban Artists generally produce one form of art (paintings, sculptures, mixed media) or do they produce works across media?

Leon Benrimon:

Artists like Banksy and KAWS have now come to represent the category, while newer artists like Invader, Paul Insect, and RETNA have pushed it forward. In many respects, what makes Urban art an interesting category is the medium. These artists are using techniques that range from traditional painting to mass-produced vinyl toys to get their works out to their audience. By democratizing their works, they’ve been able to subvert the traditional gallery model and distribute their art to a much larger collector base in a shorter amount of time.

RETNA (b. 1979) Untitled, 2011, Ink and acrylic on canvas 72 x 72 inches. Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Auction Daily:

Size, scale, and proportion seem especially relevant when describing, collecting, or displaying Urban Art.  Why is that?

Leon Benrimon:

Size, scale, and proportion are very important for Urban artworks. Some of that is dictated by the artists themselves and the kind of works they are putting out, but a lot of that is dictated by the collectors themselves. This generation of collectors doesn’t necessarily want the single trophy work by an artist, they prefer to collect in depth and in multiples. It’s not uncommon for us to visit with collectors and see hundreds of vinyl toys, dozens of skateboard decks, and lots of prints. Collectors enjoy the ease of collecting and the fluidity of selling Urban works.

Auction Daily:

Tell us about some record prices for Urban Art realized at auction. Were any made through Heritage?

Leon Benrimon:

Heritage has prided itself on being a pioneer in the Urban art space. We set hundreds of record prices, primarily because we were the first in the space. We held the first-ever auction of Collectible Sneakers, which saw a pair of Nike Air Mags sell for $44,000. We held the first-ever Supreme auction as well. We have set records for multiple works by established artists like KAWS, Banksy, and new young artists like Hebru Brantley and Matt Gondek. We still hold the world records for RETNA, Alec Monopoly, Daniel Arsham, and Richard Hambleton, among others.

Alec Monopoly (b. 1986) Slot Monopoly, 2014, Acrylic, spray paint, and collage on canvas with resin 30 x 24 inches. Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions

Auction Daily:

And finally, your March 24th Urban Art sale presents nearly 70 lots of Urban Art. Which one piece really catches your eye, and why? 

Leon Benrimon:

My favorite work in the upcoming March 24th Urban Art Auction is a painting we have by KAWS. A Monumental KAWS painting, Untitled (MBFF3), 2014, from the artists’ ‘Man’s Best Friend’ series playfully depicts Charles Schultz’s iconic Peanuts characters Snoopy and Charlie Brown. Untitled is a classic example of the artist’s ability to appropriate pop culture icons to display his unique perspective on contemporary culture. Many know KAWS’ bright, colorful works. Reminiscent of the skill with which Matisse was able to create entire portraits using only a single pencil line, this composition is really interesting because it focuses on the use of simple black line work to create a nearly abstract composition.

Heritage Auctions’ Urban Art Signature Auction Sale #8023 will be held on March 24th, 2020 starting at 1:00 pm CST at the company’s Dallas facility, located at 1518 Slocum Street, Dallas, TX 75207. Bidding is available in person, on the phone, via absentee bids, and online through Heritage Live at HA.com/Live. For more information, visit their website.