Bringing the Streets to the Saleroom: Urban Art Back at Bonhams

Whether it’s on the floor or in the street, Urban Art continues to be popular with the general public and high-end art collectors alike.

This month, Urban Art returns to the floor of the house that helped make it famous amongst the collecting crowd: Bonham’s highly anticipated Urban Art Sale opens September 21st in London. Featuring 78 lots with £474,100 in total lot estimates, the Bonham’s Sale showcases the creations of 45 artists in the genre, from seasoned veterans to emerging talents. Leading works by stellar street stars like Banksy, Shepard Fairey, Swoon, Ben Eine, and Blek Le Rat are all up for grabs, ranging in price from £500 upwards.

Urban Art Back at Bonhams

Headlining the sale is that notorious Brit, Banksy, with 13 works on display. The lot with the greatest star power features one of the artist’s most memorable images - a monkey - with his year 2000 stencil creation, Monkey Detonator , expected to fetch up to £90,000. Other works by the subversive street artist include his much-beloved Balloon Girl , with a price tag of £30,000 (high estimate), Precision Bombing ( (£15,000 – 25,000), as well as HMV Dog and Watch Tower Collaboration - Blue, both with estimates in the £10,000 - £15,000 range.

Ironically, though Banksy’s work is among the best sellers of the Urban art scene, the artist is unhappy with the fact that his work goes under the hammer. "I don't agree with auction houses selling street art - it's undemocratic, it glorifies greed and I never see any of the money," he has commented on his website. This does little to deter the art-hungry collecting crowd, who simply can’t get enough - or pay enough - for his creations. In 2008, one of the artist’s works, Keep It Spotless, sold for a staggering $1,870,000, more than triple its pre-sale high-estimate of $350,000 (434% above estimate) at Sotheby’s in New York.

Other lots in the spotlight include Chinese Soldier, Shephard Fairey’s acrylic on canvas print, expected to achieve up to £30,000. The work is one of only seven hand-painted pieces made by Fairey, and depicts a portrait of a communist Chinese Soldier along with the words “Obey” stenciled at the bottom.

Posters like this one are Fairey-favorites: attention-grabbing, brightly colored images with powerful, one-word messages. The artist is best known for his iconic Barack Obama Change poster in support of Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, and has recently featured in the first major American museum exhibition on the history of graffiti and street art at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles. The artist’s Duality of Humanity (£15,000–£20,000), also depicts a millitary theme, as does Commandante 1, 2, 3 and 4 (estimate £10,000–£15,000) and Black Panther (£3,000–£5,000).

Arms Outstretched is Adam Neate’s acrylic and spray paint work showcasing at Lot 43. With an estimate of £10,000-£15,000, perhaps buyers will be similarly inclined to reach for this hot item.

Also of note are works by groundbreaking street artist Blek the Rat. The French artist is said to be an inspiration to many of today’s hottest Urban Artists, including the pseudonymous Banksy. The ‘Rat’ has four lots featured in the sale, including The Man that Walks Through Walls at lot 4, expected to realize between £4,000-£6,000, while his 2008 spray paint work Diplomacy has a high estimate of £5,000.

Presidential favorite Ben Eine also has works featured in the sale; his captivating Calculate is showcasing at lot 28, with a predicted high of £3,000. Some experts are hoping the work will exceed high expectations, since Eine has proved to be a Cinderella-success story with regards to his art being accepted in the highest echelons of society - all the way to the White House.

Newcomer and “scavenger street artist” Joe Rush is a refreshing addition to the auction scene. The British artist is best-known for his innovative pieces made from industrial parts and salvaged junk. His first two works to ever appear at auction, Boxer No 3 (Mad Jock) and Blue Boy, have attracted pre-sale estimates of £2,500–£3,000, respectively. At Banksy’s request, Rush exhibited his sculptures at Santa's Ghetto and MuTATE Britain. He has worked extensively on the Festival circuit, winning 'Best Festival Field' at Glastonbury this year.

In addition to the Bonham’s Sale, the French auction house Aguttes in Lyon will be holding its first ever Street Art Sale on September 27th. The 226-lot sale is comprised of some well-known urban artists (including Shepard Fairey, Blek the Rat, and others), but the focus is primarily on French street artists - more proof that Urban Art is widely coveted by art enthusiasts the world over. Featuring artists such as COPE2, SEEN, and Dr. Revolt (all American), and French artists XANE, Speedy Graphito, Knar and C215, the selection of Urban and street art is impressive at Agutte’s debut sale in this genre.