Innovations in art

Hi-lite and street culture

In November 2019, Christie’s held an auction in Hong Kong called Hi-lite. The successful sale of 16 lots reflected one of the main trends of the art market: a neo-pop aesthetic of uninhibited kitsch, led by artists whose “light-lite” work is accessible to understanding and enjoyment.

The auction catalog featured works by artists “whose neo-pop aesthetic and connection to commercial art, cartoons and street art have made them iconic around the world.” The Hi-lite movement has no geographical boundaries: it is a cosmopolitan trend that brings together Japanese artists Ayu Takano, MR, Osamu Tezuka, Europeans Eric Parker and Nicolas Partey, Chinese Liu Ye, American KAWS.

Extremely popular with a wide audience, Hi-lite and Street Culture artists perfectly illustrate the globalization of the art market. The three most popular artists of this trend are KAWS, Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara. Over the past 10 years, the value of their work has increased significantly, due to the extremely high popularity and global demand.

The most successful of them is Nara: over 20 years of his work, they raised $ 327.7 million, which gave him 9th place in the world ranking, Murakami – in 15th place.

In October 2019, Nara’s work set a new record at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong. 11 years after his work crossed the $1 million mark, his painting Knife Behind (2000) sold for nearly $25 million. the same period grew by about 1000%.


In terms of speed, the prices of the American street artist KAWS rose even faster than those of Nara. The new darling of the art market worked for 11 years with the Emmanuel Perrotin Gallery, which first exhibited his work in 2008. At that time, the maximum price for the artist’s work was $8750 for the “Companion” (the artist’s favorite character) measuring about 120 cm, released in a series of 100 copies. Today, the same job would cost about $100,000.

KAWS is famous for his collaborations with Kanye West, Dior, Nike, and Uniqlo. Within a few years, he became a phenomenon in pop and urban culture. KAWS set its auction record on April 1, 2019 at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong. The Kaws Album (2005) appropriates both the Simpsons and the Beatles, and its final price of $14.8 million (15 times the estimate) illustrates the frenzy surrounding this super-popular artist. With a total turnover of $165.7 million since its auction debut, KAWS is one of the top 20 most successful contemporary artists. Popular from Asia to the US, KAWS epitomizes the dominant neo-pop aesthetic in the globalized art market.

Diverse Choice

Contemporary artists reach out to tens of millions of people, offering them their 2D, 3D or even virtual works. Paradoxically, this new “commercialism” was instrumental in making art more democratic. Murakami, Nara, Hurst, Koons, Banksy, KAWS are the best-selling in the world. Each sold over the past 20 years at auction up to 6,000 works. Following the example of Keith Haring, they have created a series of works and/or objects that are more affordable than the work usually sold in galleries. Pushing the boundaries between art and mass commerce, they appeal to all segments of buyers, from wealthy collectors to beginners.

More democratic art

Some of the roots of this phenomenon can be traced back to Keith Haring, who opened the doors of his Pop Shop in Manhattan in 1986. This art store was aimed at attracting the same type of people as its wild subway projects: “Not just collectors, but Bronx kids.” The task was to create an alternative market designed for the largest number of people. Haring remains one of the most popular, sought-after and best-selling artists of our time. In terms of auction transactions, it ranks second in the world with the number of lots sold – 4806 in 20 years (in terms of total auction turnover, it is 10th – $ 304.4 million).

30 years after opening the Pop Shop, in 2019 Banksy opened his own store called Gross Domestic Product™. But life has changed in 30 years, and the street artist trades through an online store. Money from sales is used to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean. In the ranking of the most successful in 20 years, Banksy is ranked 38th with 2,800 lots sold for $100.4 million since 2000.