Sotheby's to present first-of-its-kind auction celebrating New York graffiti and street artists

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Sotheby's to present first-of-its-kind auction celebrating New York graffiti and street artists
Rammellzee, The Coming of Zee, 1984. Estimate $200/300,000. Courtesy Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, NY.- Sotheby’s announced Public Intervention: Art of the Street, a first-of-its-kind online auction celebrating the first generation of New York graffiti and street artists, the iconoclasts who pioneered the style of street art that has become a global staple of popular culture and an increasing source of inspiration in the world of Contemporary Art.

Open for bidding on from 24 September – 1 October, this special auction presents works by legendary artists such as Lee Quiñones, Rammellzee, DONDI, Lady Pink, Zephyr, KAWS, Phase 2, Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, and Richard Hambleton. The dedicated street art sale follows earlier Sotheby’s sales that presented street art in the context of contemporary art sales, most notably Dear Keith: Works from the Collection of Keith Haring, which included many artists from this generation. Together, Sotheby’s has an unparalleled track record of showcasing street artists, presenting many at auction for the first time, and setting many notable auction records for artists involved in the movement, such as Rammellzee, Lee Quiñones, Keith Haring, KAWS, Lady Pink, and Fab Five Freddy, among others.

Anchoring the sale is an outstanding selection of works from the Estate of Richard Hambleton, the enigmatic artist whose haunting shadow portraits were the artist’s eerie calling cards that helped define the urban interventionist spirit of street art in New York during the early 1980s, with a portion of the proceeds from the sale to benefit the New Museum of Contemporary Art. Led by Standing Shadowman (estimate $70/90,000) – the last painting executed by the artist during his lifetime – the diverse group of works showcases the artist’s many motifs and will be offered across a series of sales, beginning with Public Intervention this September through spring 2022.

Highlights from the auction will be on view at Sotheby’s in New York beginning 24 September, alongside works from our Contemporary Curated and Contemporary Art Online sales, as well as a dedicated offering of Color Field paintings.


The September auction is led by one of the most important works by Rammellzee to come to auction: The Coming of Zee from 1984 (estimate $200/300,000), a tour de force encapsulating the artist’s all-consuming universe. Spanning over 10 feet wide and incorporating the full breadth of Rammellzee’s characteristic multimedia assemblage, this monumental and seminal work blurs the lines between painting, sculpture, and installation. Alluding to an origin story, the title prophetically sets the tone for the establishment of a new world the work creates: in it, bright neon colors and swirling forms resemble a planetary cosmos or topographical landscape, filled with a “big bang” of stars or volcanic eruptions and other imaginary forms from the artist's detailed cosmology. This work, having been on long term loan to the Groninger Museum between 1997 and 2017, was previously in the private collection of Yaagov (Yaki) Corenblit, the infamous Dutch gallerist known for popularizing many New York graffiti artists in Europe.

The last painting executed by Richard Hambleton in his lifetime, Standing Shadowman from 2017 leads a group of works to be offered on behalf of the artist’s estate across several Sotheby’s sales beginning this fall and into spring 2022, including a selection of sketchbooks and works on paper which provide an unprecendented window into Hambleton’s artistic practice. Sotheby’s will also offer a selection of examples from the artist’s infamous Stop Sign series – paintings on actual stop signs – which were exhibited at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2017 during the showing of the documentary chronicling the artist’s career, Shadowman. The series encapsulates the longevity of the artist’s obsession with the shadow figure motif as his work transitioned from streets of New York to the walls of the gallery.

This outstanding ensemble represents the first and only selection of works coming directly from the artist’s estate to be presented at auction, with a portion of the proceeds to benefit the New Museum of Contemporary Art.

Richard Hambleton was a longtime resident of the Lower East Side of Manhattan and an advocate for its community of artists. In his will, Hambleton explicitly noted that his estate should support arts education.

The New Museum of Contemporary Art, founded in 1977, is the only museum dedicated exclusively to contemporary art in Manhattan. In 2007, in tandem with the opening of its first dedicated building on the Bowery, the New Museum dramatically expanded its education programming. Over the last decade, these programs have reached more than 70,000 students, teachers, youth, and families, the majority of whom come from low-income households with limited access to contemporary art.

The bulk of the funds raised through the sales will support the New Museum’s work in the areas of education and youth, extending the important legacy of Richard Hambleton, a trailblazing and experimental artist whose history is intertwined with the Lower East Side.

Lee Quiñones’s The Dance Band (estimate $30/50,000) is a detailed example of a study for a subway mural. Created by the legendary pioneer of the New York graffiti movement, this study was effectively the cornerstone for the successful completion of this ground-breaking art form presented far outside the gallery or museum context. The studies functioned as blueprints for the complex planning of graffiti works, which depended on precise timing and skill to execute such large-scale pieces illegally and often under the cover of darkness, with minimal materials and at great personal risk from injury or the police.

On the heels of the artist’s recent retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum, five early works by KAWS also feature prominently in the sale, led by two tags, including Untitled (KAWS) (estimate $35/55,000) and a blackbook that features tags and sketches by the artist. One of the most commercial and well-known contemporary artists of the time, KAWS deftly combines Pop and Street art sensibilities to create unique work. Although he is the only artist from the later generation in the sale, these early works show his gravitation towards the first generation of New York Street and graffiti artists who influenced his work in the early 1990’s. The works on offer this September are some of the only examples of historic work by the artist to have been presented at auction and illustrate the early exploration of themes present in the artist’s œuvre through today.

Additional highlights include: an installation by Kenny Scharf as well as an early painting by the artist originally shown at the pioneering Fun Gallery, which promoted graffiti and street artists in the early 1980s; several works by Keith Haring, an Untitled painting by DONDI (estimate $30/40,000), and a painting by Lady Pink, Idyllic Scene with 7 Train (estimate $15/20,000).

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