Moniker International Art Fair


Written by Izzy Elstob
18 Monday 18th October 2010

When is street art not street art? I guess when bunged into a gallery or exhibition. The aim of the Moniker International Art Fair is to provide a contrast to the blue chip art at Frieze. It gave birth last Thursday in the seedy backwaters of Shoreditch.

Space prohibits me from exploring whether an international art fair for so-called street art immediately negates that movement’s very philosophy. The commercialization of art intended to subvert our idea of what constitutes art is a real conundrum for the whole industry, and particularly, for street artists themselves. A huge swathe of this art may be seen as subversive simply because it gently prods at the legal/illegal, art/vandalism line, but the best of it must surely be expected to do more. Graffiti in much of its present form involving clever one-liners or humorous sexual innuendo has been around since before the (supposed) birth of Christ, so more should be expected from it.
In saying this, it is commendable that an alternative to Frieze has been so successfully developed. An alternative that gives a platform for emerging artists to show their achievements, and allows street artists a foot in the door, should they want one. Nobody is going to argue with that. But I must admit that I would like to have seen more deviations from the ‘traditional’ idea of what street art is. The pathologically reclusive African-American artist David Hammons selling snowballs in the street in 1983 is an example of art that is deeply subversive and performed in the urban environment. It would be a more challenging definition of street art had we seen more of a nod to contemporary developments of that sort of practice.  
But all the work that Moniker has chosen to represent is definitely of a very high quality. Katrin Fridriks’s highly accomplished work is a sort of urban Abstract Expressionism, packed full of colour and contours, beautiful and wild. Herakut’s disconcerting creatures that appear as monstrous children are great figurative works. This collaboration represents a contemporary Hieronymous Bosch; nightmarish and fantastical. Ben Eine consolidates his reputation as one of Britain’s foremost street artists with his false street façade, visually saturated with various tags and bite-sized versions of his works laid over ripped posters and dingy window spaces. 
For me, however, it is the artist whose status as a street artist is highly debatable, who stands out in her own league at the Moniker International Art Fair: Polly Morgan. If the remarkable installation that Morgan has chosen to represent her at this event is a taster of the developments in her practice then her fear of being taken less seriously if Paris Hilton buys her work is totally unnecessary. There is a solid reason that Morgan is so popular and successful: she is that very rare breed of person who was born to be an artist and never sought that label. Her installation of her taxidermy workshop complete with her instruments and substances of destruction (dissection) and preservation (taxidermy), glass eye chart, smeared blood and examples of some of her works, is a remarkable still-life on a monumental scale. The rotting packet of grapes is as important as the included works of art. It all fits together as a single three-dimensional composition. And it does it beautifully. 
The Moniker International Art Fair contains the blueprint to be an annual event that shows us the art that we don’t normally see in this setting. But even at the event’s launch at Shoreditch House there was a sense that stretching out the art world tentacles to Street Art is full of tensions. Walking round with a glass of pink champagne will not be cancelled out by employing a DJ in an attempt to ‘keep it real’. The quality is all there. I’m just not sure that the message is yet.


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