From Keith Haring and Basquiat to Banksy and Invader, Sotheby’s new exhibition of street art legends in Hong Kong, launched last Friday, taps into a growing appetite among young Asian collectors.
Although auction houses have taken a knock as the China economy slows, the demand for street art in Asia has grown, with Hong Kong hosting an increasing number of exhibitions, sales and events.
Last year a mosaic of 1970s American cartoon character Hong Kong Phooey by French artist Invader set a world record for that artist at auction, fetching HKD2 million at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong.
The popular piece of street art had been destroyed by the city’s authorities, infuriating residents, and was later re-made for sale.
Although that work went to a European collector, Sotheby’s Asia director Isaure de Viel Castel says a more adventurous young local market is driving interest in street art in the region.
“It’s younger collectors [interested in the work],” says Castel.
“People here are very adventurous. They’ve travelled a lot, they live abroad, especially the younger generation. They are craving new art, meeting artists, they absolutely love it.”
She added that the economic slowdown in China had so far not affected sales and that there was demand for street art across the region.
The new exhibition, entitled “They Would be Kings” is Sotheby’s first ever in Asia of street art.
It comes ahead of major art show Art Basel, which kicks off in Hong Kong this week, and sees exhibitors and collectors converge on the city.
All the works at the Sotheby’s show are available for private sale, but prices fetched will not be disclosed and there are no pre-sale estimates, unlike an auction.
Organisers say the exhibition is designed to introduce the works to an audience that may not be familiar with the broad range of street art on the market.
The headline piece is Haring’s large-scale abstract take on the classical image of ancient Rome’s founders Romulus and Remus suckling a she-wolf.
The show is curated by Steve Lazarides, a high-profile London-based art dealer known for his work with British street artist Banksy, whose work “Bomb Middle England” is one of those featured in the new exhibition.
“These artists forged their own path, they bludgeoned their way into the public consciousness,” said Lazarides.
“You can now find works by these pioneering artists in museums, advertising and on the walls of some of the world’s biggest collectors.”