Street art & wall street a connivance well beyond the intended pun




Two hypothetical situations… 


Either you’re from an era, today’s youngsters couldn’t possibly have known, where you witnessed the birth and felt the essence of street art. In which case, the relationship between the worlds of street art and wall street makes you recollect, and you are wondering where I’m going with this. For you, street art rhymes with graffiti, way before it was ever considered art, with hooded nocturnal graffiti painters illegally spray painting walls, subways, train cars, and being able to flee the scene in no time. Graffiti painters (note that I haven’t yet said “artist”) whose anonymity guaranteed their freedom, safeguarded by an enigmatic, ciphered signature. Similar to the hip-hop culture, it wasn’t yet recognized as Art. It was a forum of communication and rebellion, hailed from the suburbs; a delinquent “art” requiring one be an “offender” in order to grasp the codes and decipher the messages of those unwelcomed frescos, at least from a cop’s point of view. By criminal law, graffiti was defined as wall “defacement”. This takes us quite a ways from the likes of stock market traders...bear with me, my point is coming… 



Or, on the contrary, you’re from the “young generation”, not yet in your 40s, perhaps not even in your 30s, and didn’t live through the period when street art lived up to its reputation, before leaving the streets and ending up in…galleries. In your mind, street art conveys a pictorial style, a technique whose principal medium is spray paints, which is now expressed directly on canvasses ready to be sold, instead of on walls. Or instead, depicted on walls intended and reserved for that sole purpose, ordered by private clients, companies or even by municipalities, ironically. Tags conducted without the fear of the police, therefore, without being in “fourth gear”. Street art is now acknowledged by the Art World, it is exhibited in the most prominent galleries and auction houses. It has its celebrities, whom aren’t at all anonymous, photographed and celebrated by other show business celebrities. Some of which have even gone as far as having their Rolls-Royce painted by their favorite artists, on live television. Street art has become the love child of many collectors, galleries and auction houses. We are very far from the night streets, hoods and police custody…hence, the possible relationship between street art and wall street, the world of finance, seems less incoherent…Art, business, the elite, artist’s rating skyrocketing…you’re starting to see where I’m getting at. 



If you’re the least bit interested in Art and its fine market, you’ve surely noticed the growing popularity of street art, in galleries and prestigious auction houses alike. Never has a “style” nor have artists been so mainstreamed, or have known such growth and glorification, and…soaring prices. Not even did Pop-art arouse such keen interest, as swiftly and steadily. Why ? How ? and…is it all legitimate ? 


I might as well say it right out: far be it from me to disrespect the artistic quality or even call into question the talent of those mainstreamed artists, on the contrary. Having met some of these artists and having valued their work, I am truly thrilled ! This is not the point. 


However, this rise to fame deserves a detailed explanation, for it is, from my standpoint, a shining example of the art market’s evolution, how it operates, and how it has drifted. As a matter a fact, it is a demonstration of how art is being merchandized, and the consequences of. Could it be that the Art market is drifting towards the manufacturing of “artistic bubbles”, such as those of the stock market, with Wall Street being the emblematic creator of “speculative bubbles” ? Artificial bubbles, that rise and rise and rise, before bursting and splashing everyone in its path… 


Nonetheless, the crossing over of street art, from walls to canvasses and from streets to galleries, happened naturally. With the help of the artistic acknowledgement, of art lovers and galleries, of this liberated form of expression (still, to this day) which symbolized a way of life and bore witness to an era in the continuity of Pop Art, driven by the hip-hop movement. And it was naturally that street art entered galleries and into collections, while the artists were still being chased down and fined heavily by the police. But at the time, the marketed artists were just a handful in each country, and their prices didn’t exceed those of a Soulage or a Rembrandt…back then, the number of “recognized” artists’ and their market value progressed rationally… normally, so to speak. 


Things changed and started speeding up when the art market and its protagonists (collectors and auction houses who ruled the roost), met up and started being “truly” interested and caring for this “new product”. That’s when the value making machine was switched on. You gather some of the biggest art collectors, advised by their favorite galleries, who start buying artworks to add to their collections. Thereupon, as per the market’s mechanism, the value of the artworks are “enhanced”, through auction houses…at the top of the list Artcurial, followed closely by Sotheby’s and Christie’s; the number of auction houses dedicated to street art was reduplicated, for and with the “founding” street art artists such as Banksy, Invader, Jef Aerosol, Basquiat and Keith Haring, who were of safe and genuine value. Prices reached new highs. But to maintain the craze and to dump the market, new “products” were needed…within five years time, a new generation of talented artists was thrust into the public eye. Confronted with this highly publicized boom, galleries started following the trend, especially smaller galleries that were suffering; they had to latch on to street art and the gush of “revealed” artists supplying them with “easy to sell” artworks neighboring “decorative” but TRENDY art. With the “new celebrities” backed by auction houses and collectors, highly advertised through media, commercials, movie stars, and offering an array of affordable artworks, for galleries and online websites, street art became the love child of that market, THE hipster : A fast growing financial product orchestrated by some or a trendy product braced by the public who finds street art to be accessible in every sense of the word. 


This is how it became a “speculative bubble” : a fleeting trend, driven and orchestrated by the mechanics of an artificial market. The art market, like the stock market or any other market influenced by trends, was now volatile. The art market logic, which should be based on talent and how it determines an artist’s success, is rather that of supply and demand. Street art is proof that this logic is in reverse, entering a new era in which supply creates demand. Art becomes a product, the artists are the suppliers who are subject to orders. And, amidst the criteria that define an artist, creative freedom should outweigh all others. 


Which will be the next trend that shall dethrone street art ? We will soon find out. But I hope that some of those mainstreamed artists will remain based on the merit of their talent. Many, however, will disappear like comets, wiped from the radar screen, like many singers and music groups have disappeared after having made just one album. I fear the art world is going down that same road…Isn’t art being merchandized, with its selection based on “profit” instead of “talent” ? This logic distorts art and how it is perceived, and causes a decline in our capacity to judge objectively what the market has to offer.


I cannot emphasize it enough : the art market is regulated like the stock market, and many insider trading and agreement proceedings will come about. Art having become a tool for speculation and making money, in which street art is an exchange investment, you now see how street art and wall street connive, beyond any double entendre.  


Article published by LJ Art Traffik