Lanky models with animals tattooed on their fingers and Sanskrit carved into their wrists are ubiquitous in New York City’s Meatpacking District—fixtures of the neighborhood’s formerly dank slaughterhouses turned posh boutiques and restaurants.
Body art is the new skincare regimen. These days, you’d be hard-pressed to find a young model who doesn’t have a tattoo--a permanent, stylish marker on her flesh.
Cara Delevingne has her mother’s name inked across her arm and a lion’s face on her forefinger. Kendall Jenner has an inconspicuous white dot—a matching friendship tattoo she got with Hailey Baldwin—on the inside of her middle finger.
Jourdan Dunn’s right forearm is inked with a large and intricate Hamsa, or “hand of God,” while her left forearm bears the message: “Fear is not an option.”
This week in the Meatpacking District, tattoo art is going high end: on Nov. 13 and 14 Guernsey’s auction house is selling more than 1,000 original paintings and drawings by the world’s most renowned tattoo artists—the first ever auction of original tattoo art.
The works belonged to Peter Mui, the late fashion designer and musician, who commissioned the most sought-after tattoo artists to paint designs for him on canvas and illustration boards.
Highlights of the collection include works by Horiyoshi III, the infamous Japanese Yazuka master known for his full body tattoos, or shishei; American master Bob Roberts, who operates a celebrity-trodden tattoo parlor in Los Angeles; biomechanical tattoo pioneers Guy Aitchison and Aaron Cain; and tribal tattoo artists Leo Zulueta and Roger Ingerton.
“It’s a who’s who of artists whose names resonate to people who follow this slice of global culture,” Guernsey’s president, Arlan Ettinger, told The Daily Beast. He looked incongruous next to some of the Popeye-style tattoo art in a handsome tweed jacket, jeans, and brown loafers.
Ettinger and his team estimated each work based on the artist’s notoriety and skill. Otherwise, pricing was “guesswork” because “there’s no precedent to point to. Estimating a Picasso is easy because thousands of his works are sold,” he said.
Ettinger estimated works by lesser-known tattoo artists around $500. “How high do you go? That’s the real unknown in this auction,” he said. “But if you’re the best in any genre of art, your work will command thousands of dollars.”
Works by Horiyoshi III, one of the most famous and prolific tattoo artists in the world, will be valued higher than most of the 80 other artists represented.
“The danger we face now is that tattoo art will now flood the market,” said Ettinger, who expects that many of the works purchased at his auction will double in value within a year.
In a contemporary art world gone mad and flooded with wealth, Guernsey’s tattoo art auction is refreshingly democratic. “Let the market determine how much these works are valued,” Ettinger said.