Fresh off a record-setting Banksy sale, a KAWS retrospective event and the groundbreaking DKE Toys Archive auction, Heritage Auctions
goes big in the Urban art world by getting small. The Dallas-based house's March 11 Urban Art event features only 43 lots. Yet the upcoming auction is a best-of-the-best sale highlighting some of the finest works by many of the biggest and brightest names on the global contemporary-art landscape.
Heritage Auctions in recent months has met the increased demand of contemporary-art collectors by expanding its offerings to include retrospective auctions and sales spotlighting single artists. As a result, Heritage has been able clear the canvas for these significant pieces by such singular futurists.
Featured in this auction is Los Angeles' celebrated graffiti artist RETNA, fresh off his world-record sale at Heritage just three months ago. And Hebru Brantley, once hailed by his hometown magazine as "Chicago's Hip-Hop Art Star." And Vhils, the Portuguese visionary self-proclaimed as a visual poet. And the late Richard A. Hambleton, whose star rose alongside those of Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. And the muralist known as Jerkface.
"We are extraordinarily proud that this auction celebrates the depth and diversity of the Urban art market," says Taylor Curry, Heritage Auctions' New York City-based consignment director for Modern & Contemporary Art. "It is not to be missed."
The untitled diptych from RETNA is a centerpiece in an auction filled with them, a piece unlike any other ever featured at Heritage Auctions. For this enormous work, each piece measuring 92½ x 44 inches, the Angeleno has painted his famously unearthly script a mélange of myriad languages and alphabets, foreign and familiar all at once on aluminum. The viewer can see one's self in this specially commissioned piece that serves almost as mirror. It's a rare work for RETNA and a significant departure from earlier works, among them 2015's record-setting They Can't Come, which sold in November for $175,000. Here, RETNA allows the viewer to become one with his art.
Hebru Brantley lets you stand alongside his: Among his pieces in this auction one will find the 5-foot-tall sculpture Blue Fly Boy, among the 16 "members" of The Watch who stood in various spots throughout Chicago in 2013. Brantley, a native of Chicago's so-called Black Metropolis known as Bronzeville, has in recent years become one of that city's most beloved exports, a favorite of "blue bloods and rappers alike," as Chicago magazine once wrote.
George Lucas acquired in 2014 several of Brantley's pieces, including some of The Watch sculptures, for a proposed museum in Chicago that never came to fruition. The Star Wars creator is not alone in his admiration: Beyoncé and Jay-Z and LeBron James likewise count themselves as fans and collectors. Brantley's extraordinary work is Black history wrapped in popular culture, playful but with a point and purpose: "I'm a kid at heart," he once said "But they still have some of those darker undertones."
Blue Fly Boy, created as part of Chicago Ideas Week in 2013 and made of fiberglass, resin, acrylic and concrete, is the three-dimensional iteration of his FlyBoy character that has almost become Brantley's avatar. Hiding eyes behind aviator goggles, Fly Boy and his female counterpart Lil Mama are meant to evoke the Tuskegee Airmen and, as the Chicago Sun-Times noted in 2019, "reflect what kids today would look like who embody the spirit and essence of those African American heroes."
There are five Brantley pieces in the March 11 Urban Art event, including Fly Boy Bronze (Green) from 2017 and the 2019 screenprint The Boys Part 3, which Brantley embellished by hand. At the moment, anything he touches is highly sought-after.
The Bay Area's Barry McGee, like Brantley, comes from the graffiti world; and he, too, is associated with some singular images, among them the flathead screw he made iconic during his tenure as Twist in the early 1990s. One such piece from 1992, spray-painted on wood, is featured in this event and is reminiscent of the twisty-turny throwsies for which he became famous under his paint-can moniker.
Here, too, is one of the sad-sack faces with which he became known in the 1990s, when brick walls and train cars were his preferred canvases. The untitled face from 1996, done in mixed media on metal, is a key McGee from that period.
Another work of heavy metal, from yet another artist who began as a tagger, is Vhils' Desensitized #2 from 2012. Vhils has been a coveted artist in Europe, and until now very few of his pieces have been available to United States buyers. For this reason, among others, Heritage Auctions is incredibly proud to become the first U.S. auction house to bring to his work to market.
Desensitized #2 is a quintessential piece from the celebrated Portuguese artist, known best for his using whatever's at hand from acid to tools to make his mark on the surface of the material which he's working. It's a process Vhils calls "creative destruction," explaining on his website that he "digs into the surface layers of our material culture like a contemporary urban archaeologist, exposing what lies beyond the superficiality of things, making visible the invisible and restoring meaning and beauty to the discarded dimensions buried beneath."
From neighboring Spain comes Edgar Plans, whose 2018 mixed-media work I Love Art, like Brantley's, features a childlike character dressed like a superhero. Plans has said in interviews that his "animal heroes," as he calls his creations, are meant to "to criticize the human acts against the planet" as they "fight against gender violence, racism and envy." The piece only looks light; Plans' intentions are heavy.
For something completely different, look no further than the unworn Apple Computer sneakers being offered in this event.
These rare shoes are deeply desired among kicks collectors whose love affair with the rainbow-tongued shoes drove Versace to briefly manufacture some knock-offs three years ago. It has been almost a year since Heritage has offered a rare pair of these custom-made sneakers, given away to employees during a national sales conference in the 1990s. The last time such a pair hit the market, a heated bidding war drove up the final price to $10,000.
Turns out, one person's footwear is another's collectible.
The March 11 Urban Art Signature Auction is open for bidding now. The live auction begins at 1 p.m. Central time March 11.