The dos and don’ts of collecting street art

A Banksy on display (credit Animal NY)
A Banksy on display (credit Animal NY)
Naked Man image by Banksy, on the wall of a sexual health clinic in Park Street, Bristol.
Naked Man image by Banksy, on the wall of a sexual health clinic in Park Street, Bristol.

Lately it seems all the world wants to get in on the street art collecting game. But that is not always so easy to pull off. Street artists tend to create big, bold public pieces that are difficult to both acquire and house. In the world of Costco-sized art, it’s not always as simple as buying a piece and hanging it on your wall. Take, for example, Banksy’s recent sale of a 27-foot SWAT van covered in his stencils which sold for about $283,500. A collector is going to need a mighty big living room to house that! Not to mention a triple-wide elevator.

Experts also wonder when taken from public display if the value actually could decrease, as these works generally are made for a public audience. Darren Julien, president and chief executive of Julien’s Auctions, sold a wall that held up a Los Angeles gas station which had a Banksy mural on it. It cost $80,000 to remove, then sold for $200,000 at auction. But Banksy’s authentication service, comically named Pest Control Office, refuses to authenticate any removed public art. Mo’ art, mo’ problems.

Those in the know in the art world are hip to how popular this type of artwork has become, but are quick to caution collectors that only a few top names actually rise to the level of collectability, name checking iconic street artists such as Banksy, Shepherd Fairey of Obama “Hope” poster fame and Mr. Brainwash. Some collectors have taken to meeting newer artists themselves, forming relationships with them and growing their collections as a bargain rate. Beyond a small list of tried and true, there is no way to definitively predict the value of a contemporary artist in the early stages of a career.

“Some people buy art and they think it’s street art,” said Todd Kramer, a partner at Gallery Valentine, who has been collecting Banksy’s work since 2001. “I don’t have the heart to tell them it’s going to be worth zero. If we look at investment-grade material, they’re buying the biggest penny stock they possibly can.”

If you are lucky enough to be a real estate developer one can collect in a way most can’t — own both the walls and the art. The New York Times profiles Jessica Goldman Srebnick, chief executive of Goldman Properties who seems to have the best of both worlds. She has offered a wall to street artists on the corner of Houston Street and the Bowery in NYC since 2008. The public can enjoy the art, three artists in a year can use the space, and at the end of the term it is whitewashed and offered to new blood.

In many cases, the bigger the artwork, the bigger the price. Nicholas Korniloff, founder of Art Southampton, said he once had six street artists paint 20-plus-foot canvases that hung over his Art Miami fair. An Alexis Diaz painting of a whale with palm trees coming out of its fins sold for $60,000.

For those who want street art on a smaller scale, there’s always a print. Banksy prints that used to sell for $6,000 to $8,000 are now going for $20,000 to $30,000. But when a basic print won’t do, some collectors get creative themselves.

One art aficionado Beth Shak, a professional poker player, said she commissioned artist Mr. Brainwash to do a image on one of her Birkin handbags. The bag’s value, at least for insurance purposes, went to $75,000 from $12,000.