Urban Art: Vandalism or Worthwhile Investment?

Jul 4, 2019

Since the early 2000’s our perception of street art has evolved from the discussion of whether it’s vandalism or not to the question of how much a Banksy will bring at auction. Since entering the mainstream contemporary art market as a category to be taken seriously in its own right, millions of dollars of urban art has sold every year at the big auction houses and top galleries. Buyers range from art lovers interested in purchasing their first piece to seasoned art collectors who are looking at urban art as worthwhile investment. Corporate and consumer brands spend big bucks to incorporate street art into their branding.

Annelien Bruins sits down with Muys Snijders, Head of the America’s Post-War & Contemporary Art Department at Bonhams, and Tony “Rubin” Sjöman, Manhattan based mural and studio artist to interview them on how street artists increasingly dominate the contemporary art market and how they have managed to turn graffiti into a sought-after investment.

What is the difference between Graffiti Art and Street Art?
Some say there is no difference and that they are all one in the same. But generally, Urban Art is overarching. Graffiti Art is more word-based social commentary and Street Art is more visual and image-based and grew from Graffiti Art. Keith Haring and Jean Michael Basquiat were not what you’d consider “traditional” Graffiti artists.

How do you go from creating art on walls to selling it in galleries?
There’s no simple answer. It’s a gradual process where one thing leads to another. When you start creating work in a studio, it can lead to exhibition spaces and galleries.

Has Street Art attained a position in the contemporary market?
Absolutely. Artists that started on the street are coming in and out of the market through the gallery world and secondary market. Bonhams has been offering sales of Street Art since 2008. Artists are going main stream and are ending up in the top evening sales.

Street Art in general is more accessible across different mediums from skateboards and billboards. And, unlike other art categories, it’s very international. The market will continue to grow as more attention is given to these artists. The works also speak to a younger generation of art collectors that easily identify with and understand the works.

Is there a big international client base?
It’s amazing what Instagram has done to the growth of the international Street Art market. It has propelled Street artists to the international forefront. It’s also a great tool to use when identifying which artists have come to market. Artists can show their work and the process behind it as opposed to just selling work on the platform.

What makes a good Street artist and does the same criteria apply as it does in the contemporary art market?
One of the ideas behind Graffiti Art is to not follow any rules. But nowadays, there are just so many rules. If the work is honest and authentic, that’s all that matters.

Sadly, there are a lot of fakes across all categories including Street Art. When making any significant investment, do your research and homework. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

Where do you buy Street Art?
Visit artist’s studio to get to know the artist and actually see the process. The process can be more important than the actual work. Other viable options are a gallery show or contemporary art fair such as Moniker Urban Contemporary Art Fair.

How do you feel about art being removed and sold from walls?
If you do something illegal on the streets, unfortunately you don’t have much claim to it. But when it comes to ethics, of course it’s not correct. So where do you draw the line?

You can listen to the audio recording of the discussion here.


Annelien Bruins

Annelien Bruins serves as an independent Chief Marketing Officer to companies in the art, luxury and wealth management industries. She is a board member of the Foundation of the American Institute of Conservation.

Prior to her current focus on marketing strategy, she founded and ran her own art advisory firm in London, founded Katapult Coaching for Artists, an online business that...

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Tony “Rubin” Sjöman

Manhattan based mural and studio artist Tony “Rubin” Sjöman (b.1975) has painted all over the world and his works have been shown in galleries throughout the US and Europe.

Sjöman’s roots are in Finland and Sweden and he draws inspiration from his Scandinavian heritage for his complex abstract...

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Muys Snijders

Muys Snijders is the Head of Art Services at Private Client Select Insurance Services (formerly AIG’s Private Client Group) based in New York. She oversees all aspects of risk management for Private Client Select’s insurance portfolio of art, jewelry, cars, wine and collectibles. Working with a team of seasoned professionals, she provides collections related loss prevention and collection...

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