PARIS — At first glance, this was a high-end, high-profile auction just like any other: held in the sale room of a gilded mansion near Avenue Montaigne, with an enthusiastic auctioneer, a sea of fierce bidders, prices ranked in euros, American dollars, Swiss francs and other currencies, and harried-looking staff members monitoring telephones and online bids.
However, some things were different. For one, the bidders were mostly young and urban, wearing baseball caps, hoodies and sneakers. A Chinese couple sat hand in hand on the second row, catalogs on their laps — she in a Gucci T-shirt, he in a Louis Vuitton denim jacket. Behind them was a serious looking man with diamond earrings, immaculately trimmed facial hair, wearing a Supreme x Undercover jacket. Behind him, gaggles of teenagers in rhinestones, plenty of whom still had braces on their teeth.
Largely French, but with a scattering of Chinese and Americans, few in the registered crowd were likely to have been to a traditional auction before. But then the works going under the hammer weren’t exactly old masters.
They were piles of branded T-shirts and triptychs of skateboards sprayed with images of thunderbolts and women, some as Playboy bunnies. Scarlet red boxing gloves and motocross helmets, a white electric guitar and screens printed with graffiti stood alongside logo-ed foldaway chairs. Staplers and snow boards were included, and the occasional painting and photograph, although these were few and far between.
The brainchild of Artcurial, an auction house generally known for its fine art, furniture and design sales, this was “C.R.E.A.M: — Cash Rules Everything Around Me” — billed as the first street culture auction by a traditional auction house.
Titled after the Wu-Tang Clan’s 1993 single, and coming at a time when the three decade-long dialogue between New York’s underground scene and the worlds of contemporary art, fashion and design appears to have reached a fever pitch, the event on Wednesday night proved a major hit: 94 percent of the lots eventually sold, and final totals doubled the global pre-sale estimate, reaching 850,681 euros, or $1 million.
The prices were hardly the kind of figures reached at the David and Peggy Rockefeller auction last week at Christie’s in New York, which generated a record-breaking $832 million. But for Fabien Naudan, the vice president of Artcurial, who had spent three years gathering the 135 sale items from private hands, the evening was about more than money.
“The C.R.E.A.M auction is a major milestone for us,” Mr. Naudan said, “not just in terms of the type of clients we have attracted with it, but also in terms of what it says about changing perceptions of valuable art and design in the current market.”
About two thirds of the auction items were from Supreme, the New York skate brand that has cultivated a hysterical following over 20 years by offering only limited editions. Its now infamous and exclusive “drops” at its stores worldwide draw lines of eager buyers that snake around the block, and have attracted numerous luxury brands and high-profile collaborators in search of its magic.
Predictably the brand’s distinctive red and white logo-bedecked products created the most excitement at auction, with a punching bag going for €20,150, a Fender guitar for €5,200 and a three-foot by one-foot painted sign for €54,600, eight times its estimated price.
The star of the sale, however, was a Malle Courrier 90 steamer trunk from the sellout Supreme x Louis Vuitton pairing last year. Unveiled to collective oohs, it set the phones ringing and the bidding climbing over several tense minutes. “Come now, madam, can I see €80,000,” asked the auctioneer, Arnaud Oliveux, clad in a blue suit and Supreme T-shirt (the trunk’s original estimate was €70,000). “81, sir! 82 to my right! Can I get 85? Can anyone give me €85,000? 86 and it can be yours, with no regrets!”
Eventually it sold for €88,400, making it the top lot of the night (a smaller Supreme x Louis Vuitton trunk for skateboards sold for €62,400).
Other non-Supreme items also performed well, including sculptures by the street artist Kaws, prints from Todd James and photographs by the graffiti artist Barry McGee.
“That was amazing,” said Julien, a schoolboy from Paris, as he and two friends descended the steps into the Metro. He had successfully bid €1,000 for a T-shirt — and declined to give his last name as he didn’t want his parents to know what he had bought.
“It was actually easier than attending some of the drops,” he said. “I am so pleased and would definitely come back again.”
Mr. Naudan said, “We all know that the art world can seem elitist and intimidating. Sales like these are one way to try and shift perceptions and reach a new generation, which is incredibly exciting in itself.”
There were a scattering of long-term art collectors at the sale — some bidding to secure items that would fit neatly into their contemporary art collections, others to pander to the desires of their teenage children — but the majority of the audience clearly was new to the classical auction concept. And at a time when the global cohort of luxury goods consumers is skewing inexorably toward the young, the Supreme auction was a test of a new approach: Artcurial plans to hold a series of street and skate culture auctions in other cities.
“All art is about telling a story and about a society at a particular moment in time,” Mr. Naudan said. “In 2018, we need more than just classical notions around what constitutes culture to show where we are today.
“Sneakers, records skateboards, T-shirts — all these everyday items first appropriated by brands like Supreme and now, in turn, being appropriated by high culture, music and fashion players — are becoming major social markers. I think demand for them, and interest in what they say about us, is only going to rise.”