ORGAN THING: Urban art attitudes? Legacy of War? Was Moniker any good then?


Moniker Art Fair, London 2017

The week has been a busy one, it started in a rather fractured way with that rather  underwhelming Sluice Biennial thing up in that bit of Hackney now overrun by designer labels, so so disappointing after all the positive engagement of Folkestone in the weeks before.  Sluice kicked off the Frieze art week, Sluice was quickly followed by those vast piles of books (but never a tie) at the first day of Frieze itself, today is more exploring over at Frieze but first to Brick Lane and toMoniker – or The Moniker International Art Fair as it likes to grandly bill itself – off to Moniker via Nicholas Cheveldave‘s rather intriguing Fields Of Plastic Flowers show at Emalin Gallery‘s hidden Shoreditch space, that and a flying visit to Josh Kline‘s Civil War show at the born again ex-Wilkinson gallery, the big white cube is now under new management and the guiding hand of Modern Art down the rather depleted Vyner Street, as well as the Ruth Philo and Yves Beumont show of paintings at Redchurch Street’s rather stoic Studio 1.1 gallery – more about those three shows later, today’s “Organ Thing” is an attempt to focus on the positives to be found lurking in the urban art flavours of this year’s rather ambitious Moniker Art Fair


Moniker Art Fair, London,2017 – the stairwell on the way in….

I guess ambitious would be a positive way to frame it, and I do so want to be positive  about what is essentially an event that revolves and evolves around the slicker commercial end of what you’d mostly call street art (or art influenced by the notions evolved out of something that was once street art?).  Now I’m going to put some cards on the tabel here, I’m old school, I come from a time when the only place you could buy spray paint was a branch of a Halford’s car-parts shop and then only if you  could  persuade the guy behind the counter that you weren’t a vandal and you really did need all those colours to respray your dad’s car, my world was DIY punk rock, hand-made zines, tapetrading and coming together to put gigs on in squats, a time when punk rock and street art and skateboards and coming together to do it yourself really was the only way, I’m old enough to have bought that legendary Martha Cooper book the week it came out, I’m a grumpy old fuck and I’m really not a fan of over-slick urban art, I’m not a fan of this particular set of gatekeepers, I have very little time for most of the bullshit that accompanies most gallery-based street art or urban art or whatever the hell you want to call it this week, I really wasn’t that impressed with some of the bullshit that came with the advance press release trying to get us to cover the event in advance or to come along and cover it, not that impressed with all the press-release  horsepoop about the oh-so-radical notion of participating artists leaving free art on the streets to publicise their appearance at this year’s Moniker or by the news of artists being “commissioned” to paint walls that will engage with the people of East London ahead of the (very commercial) art fair – some of us drop free art on the streets for people to take just for the pure artistic pleasure of it, not as some kind of loss-leader or a publicity stunt for a money-orientated art fair or the next exhibition, and when did painting walls become a “commissioned” thing anyway? An advertising billboard to publicise your latest limited edition print release done through this commercial urban art gallery or that super-slick street art gallery?  Street art reminds me of heavy metal these days, all rules and obeying them and slickly conforming and no steping out of line, street art, like heavy metal is, on the whole, so so tediously conservative these days.


Moniker Art Fair, London,2017 – the stairway to the fun of the fair…

And how much does it cost for the chosen few galleries to buy themselves a bit of temporary real estate in here anyway? Several arms and a diamond encrusted leg to pay for your booth for a long weekend on Brick Lane – oh come on, cut the press release bullshit, this is a commercial art fair, this is all about money, this is all about selling “stuff”, this is about as radical or dangerous as heavy metal is in 2017, this is so so far away from what excited people back there in the days of Sledgehammer or Witchfynde.  At least Frieze is honest, at least Frieze doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it actually is, I’d have a lot more time for things like Moniker if they’d just cut the crap.  This is an urban-flavoured commercial-as-it-gets money-making art fair, this is all about making money, this is about selling “stuff” to the collectors willing to pay the prices being asked for the “stuff”. There no danger here, no real edge, not much of that original attitude, there’s nothing “street” about it, there very little dirt under anyone’s fingernails, this isn’t punk rock, this is sanitized, this is over-polished, this is super-slick, I’d have a hell of a lot more time for things like this if they’d just be honest about what it is.


Moniker Art Fair, London 2017 – the V,I.P area, what the hell is that all about?

Oh look, I promised myself I wouldn’t start ranting about Moniker, I promised myself I’d only write about the art and avoid raving about the hypocrisy of it all, I promised myself I’d enter the big Brick Lane building with an openmind and go look for the art we could be positive about, I promised I wouldn’t start writing about the artists or galleries that wouldn’t dream of taking part in an event like this – and there are quite a few, there’s a few artists who really aren’t that impressed with Moniker and the way things are done. I promised myself I’d either find the positive or just shut the flip up and not bother covering any of it.

Lets skip through the bullshit and find the positives then, let’s go try to enjoy the thing that is the eighth annual Moniker International Art Fair. There are some decent galleries taking part, mostly galleries from London, mostly that urban art end of things, one or two from other places, Holland, Canada, and I’ll skip being sneery about the idea of VIP area, surely street art doesn’t come with a VIP area? Surely everyone is in it together?  And how cheesy are those train tracks that lead you to the venue, let’s ignore the tracks, pretend we didn’t see them, let’s cut the crap and cut to the chase, cut to the art…


Moniker Art Fair, London,2017/// Let’s pretend we didn’t see those tracks…

Let’s cut to the art. The event is split, two distinct areas, first thing you encounter once you’re beyond those damn Disneyland tracks and you’re through the ticket booth at the end of them, once you’re inside the actual event the first thing you encounter is a no messing standard issue art fair, lots of small well-appointed, decently lit booths packed with art, most of the booths with a gallery name above them, one or two taken on by the artists themselves, Thinkspace Gallery, from the Culver City art district of Los  Angeles seem to have taken up a number of spaces, not too bad once you’re passed all the bullshit – we’re at a nart fair, there’s art on sale, that’s fine, cut the crap…


Moniker Art Fair, London,2017.

yes it is all very slick and all very neat and tidy and “properly framed” and yes, if slick urban art is your thing then there is some eye-catching “stuff” in here, okay most of it is more than just “stuff”, I’m being a little unfair in calling it “stuff” – there’s an impressive Carne Griffiths piece over there, he’s getting a little more adventurous with his colour these days, Dale Grimshaw‘s paintings always look impressive, London’s nomadic 1963 Gallery usually come up with something interesting, something painterly, there’s always something worth checking out when 1963 are involved, Shepard Fairey‘s colour is always a graphic pleasure (of course it is, such beautiful use of colour), the Trickster piece on the pieces of wood catches the eye, Mark Powell‘s biro drawing on an old 1940’s map of London stands out over in the Curious Duke Gallery booth, the Marie-Claud Marquis embroidery (in Canadian Gallery Station 16‘s booth) has a touch of left-field attitude to it, oh look, all about your tastes, all very subjective, most of it is a little too slick for me, most of it a little too “perfect”, a little too “clean-cut”, or a little too obvious, and I guess some of those price tags reflect the prices the galleries paid to be in here. Holland’s Public House of Art has some stand-out pieces, Jenny Boot‘s gloriously painterly photographic piece is rather impressive, as is the whole of Public House of Art’s booth – less of a stall at a fair more of a small gallery space and a touch of extra class – oh look, there’s quite a bit of decent enough art in here along with the urban art clichés and the usual suspects. There are some more than decent bits of art in here, the humanity of a Stik always brings a warm glow…


Moniker Art Fair, London,2017. – Trickster


As an event I guess it works, as a place to just browse the booths and see what’s what it works, and if you feel a little more excited about super-slick urban art and David Bowie prints and pop art lips and ticking all the boxes in your I-Spy book of Urban art – a black stiletto heel here, a Kate Moss over there, a Donald Duck, at least ten sets of Mickey Mouse Ears –  then I do, if all that excites you then stick Moniker in your diary for next year. The installation room is good, the marks already there on the building’s wall are used well, those big pieces of paper hanging down. There are some positives here, there is some decent art in here, the guy stuttering through a talk in the main room (to not much of an audience) doesn’t seem to be enjoying it that much, he’s introduced as an authority, he opens by awkwardly telling us he first discovered street art in 1999 and well, we’ll leave him to it….   And dare I say the whole thing in terms of the installation room might be just a little too American obsessed, yes I know a lot of this first came in through the excitement of images from the New York subway trains but there’s as much of a rich legacy over here, that history lesson up on the wall only tells half of it, those tags or “monikers” were happening here way way back as well, football firm tags go back a lot further than the days when a sighting of a Robbo tag meant Arsenal had been in the area, it goes way back to decades before the Clash first spray painted their name underneath the Westway, way back before all those hitching posts and the “keep on clogging” tags and the messages and the warnings to each other about which truckers to avoid, messages to each other at the service stations that really did evolve into tags without really known it, back before “The Scoreboard” tags on the train stations, way back to the 20’s and 30’s and train lines and away fans, we have a rich heritage in terms of tags here as well. Have you seen those “tags” in the Tower of London?


Moniker Art Fair, London 2017 – Installation area

Oh look, for all the annoying bits, Moniker 2017 was okay, some of it was rather good, there was some more than decent art, some of the installations really worked, a couple of the galleries really impressed, if they’d just cut the crap and be a little more honest about what it really is all about, if they’d maybe acknowledge some the artists who really do work on the East London streets, then it might all feel a hell of a lot better  than it does, if we gave marks then maybe a solid six out of ten, nah, we don’t that kind of thing, Moniker was okay.

And then as you head back out and you think you’ll just quickly poke your curious nose through the open door to whatever’s happening on the floor underneath it all – Moniker is two floors up, the ground floor is occupied by the regular vintage clothes market that happens in there, and underneath Moniker on the middle floor of the big building, there’s a free to enter exhibition (Moniker is a ticketed pay to get in affair – the galleries pay to take part, the public pay to get in – to be fair the ticket price isn’t too bad and I bet it costs a fortune to hire this place to put Moniker on), Anyway, there, sandwiched in on the middle floor with their doors wide open, free to get in, seemingly being ignored by most people going up the shared stairs to Moniker (there was no on in there on the middle floor when we went in to have a look), there on the middle floor there’s some of the most powerful painting you’ll encounter during this Frieze week….


Legacy Of War, 2017

Sandwiched there on the middle floor there’s a really (really) powerful exhibition of paintings, some really emotionally moving pieces, a room full of some of the most powerful, most upsetting, most amazing, some most human paintings to be seen in London during this art-filled money-fuelled Frieze week. I defy you to stand in front of some of these movingly innocent paintings (or maybe not so innocent? How can you witness those things and retain your childhood innocence?), I defy you to stand in front of some of those paintings and not be moved…


Legacy Of War, 2017

Underneath Moniker there’s a simple white-walled area of paintings as part of an excellent exhibition called Legacy of War – powerful paintings, paintings made by children caught up in the horrors of the Syrian war, paintings made by those growing up in all that confusing destruction, some of the most powerfully moving paintings you’ll get to see this week or this year or maybe ever? Harrowing paintings, disturbing paintings, amazing paintings – “thank you for coming in, did you like it?”  asked the girl on the desk, “No, I wouldn’t say I like it, like isn’t the right word but thank you so so much”. Those paintings throw the whole week and Frieze and Moniker and the rest of it into some kind of reality-checking perspective, nothing more really needs to be said about those paintings or the Legacy of War exhibition on the middle floor, the images say far far more than we ever can  – do go and take a minute to see them, and do go see the photography that’s also part of the same Legacy of War exhibition, oh and that table (and yes more does need to be said, we will do so later, this is one of the stand out events of this Frieze week, maybe the stand out event). Oh look, who cares about what’s right or wrong about Moniker or Frieze or Sluice, who cares about the politics of street art. just look at those paintings, can you even begin to imagine what those kids have been through?  Those paintings are a real reality check, who cares about Moniker, the really powerful life-questioning art was on the floor underneath…  (sw)

Click on an image to enlarge or run the fractured slide show and hopefully a flavour or two, hey, I never said I was a photographer…



4 thoughts on “ORGAN THING: Urban art attitudes? Legacy of War? Was Moniker any good then?

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