Street art is hanging out in high places this week in St. Louis. Not just around the top stories of abandoned buildings but in a space known for fine art: an auction house.
A recent a street-art sale in New York was an unqualified success, according to Link appraiser Susan Kime, who organized the East Village auction. But here in St. Louis?
“As much as it’s an auction, it’s also a social experiment,” Kime said.
The local auction is set for Saturday at 10 a.m. People have been bidding online and visiting the work in the gallery for a week or so. So far, Kime said, some St. Louisans love the collection but others aren’t so sure.
“They look at it and think, ‘Wow, this is strange,’” Kime said.
Art and desperation
Some call this kind of work “graffiti”; others call it “street art.” What’s the difference? Some think of graffiti as a spray-painted image on a public space, and define street art as work produced somewhere else but displayed for the public.
Others, including St. Louis artist Dan Jefferson aka Bipolar Holiday, don’t separate the two terms.
“They are interchangeable,” Jefferson said.
Jefferson approached Kime after hearing about the New York auction, looking for a way to get his work out to the public.
“Being an artist here is just kind of desperation, at times,” Jefferson said. “There’s no venue for this type of art here.”
The auction consists of actual street art as well as other work, including paint on canvas, made by street artists.
Minimum bids for local pieces start at $50. They run into the thousands for well-known street artists and other national figures whose work is in the auction, including Andy Warhol.
Jefferson has no idea if emerging local artists will profit from this unconventional idea even though it has worked in New York.
“Those artists already have high price tags and demand for their work,” Jefferson said. “So how hard is it to sell something people are already craving?”
Events in Ferguson create opportunity
A St. Louis street artist who calls himself “Super” recently achieved a measure of local fame but not just for his work. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, David Cox, who’s also known as “Super,” was arrested in April and charged with two counts of felony property damage.
The charges reportedly came after he wrote “Super,” also known as a tag, on two downtown buildings. “Super” is not part of the Link auction but his arrest raises questions about the difference between street art and vandalism.
“You’re supposed to kind of get permission,” Jefferson said.
Michael Brown’s death in 2014 created a kind of Wild West for street art in Ferguson, according to Jefferson. During the unrest after then-police officer Darren Wilson killed Brown, Jefferson went to Ferguson to spray paint plywood over the windows of local businesses. He called the experience “surreal.”
“There are cop cars all over the place, and normally if a cop sees you doing that, you’re going to jail,” Jefferson said.
But in the chaos, few worried about these artistic endeavors.
“There were sirens and ambulances, SWAT vehicles with guys in SWAT gear hanging on the sides, while you’re painting,” Jefferson said.
Zach Smithey, another local artist with work in the auction, believes the events in Ferguson helped St. Louisans view street art through a new lens.
“[Ferguson] probably helped launch it in St. Louis, to get people to stop and take a look and say, ‘Wow, these aren’t just a bunch of hoodlums, these are young people making good statements and making great art,’” Smithey said.
Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL