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Are you Street (Art) Smart? Highlights from Buzz Art Auction in Streeterville

Are you Street (Art) Smart? Highlights from Buzz Art Auction in Streeterville

Buzz Art Auction Chicago

Buzz Art Auction ChicagoPlease welcome the newest contributor to, Sarah Corday. This is her first piece with us. Corday is a writer and independent art consultant who regularly connects with Chicago-based artists and galleries. She loves coffee, travel, and speaks just enough Portuguese to flawlessly order a Caipirinha. She and her husband live in Roscoe Village.

Quick! What’s the difference between street art and graffiti? And, by the way, how does a street artist gain respect when their work is semi-illegal and often power-washed away shortly after creation?

These are but a few of the questions I had in mind as I Lyfted my way to the Loews Hotel in River North for the Buzz Art Auction on Saturday.

The Buzz Art Auction is held in a handful of cities around the US, and last weekend it stopped in Chicago for a one-night event with proceeds benefiting the Ronald McDonald House charities and Best Buddies International, a nonprofit.

Street Art Auction Chicago
This abstract was painted live at the auction by Revise CMW

The Scene

Bombay Sapphire cocktails were in full rotation. Chef Mark Payne prepared bacon-wrapped dates (genius) and crostini’s topped with cranberry-sage cheese; both of which lasted only seconds before each morsel was carried off by a sea of manicured hands.

Guests mingled to sounds courtesy of Fig Media while a live model stood (rather confidently) onstage in a sparkly thong. And yes, aside from body paint and a pair of platform heels, that’s all she was wearing.  Because ART.

Chicago’s Buzz Art Auction experience featured an eclectic crop of almost 50 street artists, including Buff Monster (from NYC), Icy & Sot (brothers currently working out of Brooklyn), Bisco Smith (a crowd favorite), newcomer Emilio Ramos, and Chicago’s own Hebru Brantley.

Street Art Auction Chicago
Sean Sullivan, Young & Influenced, 2015

Cops and Paint

“I’ve been arrested, like, eight times,” said Chicago’s Revise CMW.

“Really?” I’m only slightly incredulous.

“Oh, yeah. The last time I was caught I didn’t get arrested though.  It was by an undercover cop, and he just lectured me for a while.”

Call them risky, brave, or champions of unsanctioned creativity, but many street artists consider themselves activists dedicated to elevating social consciousness. In an artistic subculture that doesn’t ask permission or patiently wait to acquire gallery representation, street artists gain a following by slapping their name (or, more commonly, their pseudonym) on top of their work. Fans can perform a quick google search to find out more about the artist, including where to purchase available pieces and where more installations can be found.

“I’ve been arrested, like, eight times.”

When I asked AMUSE 126 if social media is making a difference for street art today, he was emphatic.  “Social media is huge,” he told me. “I stay on Facebook. I have Instagram.”  He’s well-known in Chicago for several of his panoramas, including the popular Greetings from Chicago mural in Logan Square, where he painted the second “c”.

Both Revise CMW and AMUSE 126 agreed on the difference between street art and graffiti:  Graffiti is words, letters, or tags.  Sometimes it’s vandalism; sometimes it’s just a bit of viral marketing for an artist wishing to become better known. On the other hand, street art has a message, even if that message is occasionally just here’s what I can do given the space.

Some street artists have been acclaimed for their perceived message. Take Icy & Sot, a skater duo originally from Tabriz, Iran, whose work was live auctioned at this event.  Their stenciled urban art creations feature women in the traditional hijab, children gazing in serenity at a nuclear mushroom cloud, and a personified beer bottle tailed by the words “is not a crime”.  Beyond fame-seeking and property-defacing, many street artists see the medium as a form of public self-expression. It’s their personal way of supplying visual commentary on social issues.

street art auction

Where’s the Love?

“Ok lllllladiesandgentleman, we’regonnastartthebiddingatwellllvehundred. That’s right ladiesandgentleman, twellllllvehundreddollarstonight, doIhearthirteenhundreddollars?”

A piece from Sean Sullivan’s “Young and Influenced” series was the first item to be auctioned.

Paddles jumped high but despite the auctioneer’s enthusiasm, bids were lower than expected, and in some cases lower than the estimated value of the piece.

“People don’t know what they’re seeing,” AMUSE later told me.  He himself bid and scored a painting for $400.

REVISE, who’s stated before that Chicago is like a conservative older woman, expressed similar frustration. “People here, I think, come to be seen. They don’t come to buy. They don’t know what this stuff is.”


In any case, the auction drew a sizable crowd.  Whether guests came for the cocktails, the live entertainment, or in hopes of bidding on the body-painted model, one fact remains: street art is gaining momentum. Artists who began their careers in hooded sweatshirts under bridges and overpasses are literally coming out of the shadows, and attendees of this auction – whether they bid or not – were exposed to the genre and given opportunity to interact with the artists behind it.

That, I think, earns them at least a little bit of street(art) credibility.

All images in this article: Sarah Corday


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