Once or twice in a generation a group of individuals in a certain place at a certain time act as catalysts for a new kind of art. Others follow, and before long, certain forward-thinking critics begin to write about these artists. Some galleries realise something interesting and valuable is happening, adventurous collectors get involved, and a movement is born. Museums are the last to respond – they watch from a far to see if the practitioners fade into obscurity or cement their place in the history of art before adding their seal of approval. They are the keepers of the history of art that has already happened, rather than the champions of the new.
In 2010, this was also true for art fairs – the most common way for people interested in the visual arts to see a cross section of contemporary disciplines under one roof.
The first decade of the 21st century had seen the birth of a new movement. No term comfortably fits all of the unique and creative artists within it, but its widely referred to as ‘street art’. Their freedom to express and venture into new artistic territory was worth more than applause, but the traditional art world was slow to react, maintaining its footing in the conservative. As a gallerist at the time I was working with a solid roster of talented ‘street’ artists, maintaining consistent primary and secondary markets. But in the eyes of institutions, lots of artists who work on the street are not destined to become historically important. I could not break into the UK art fair circuit.
Perhaps it was inevitable: with so much of the street art ethos coming from that ‘do-it-yourself attitude’, that if the traditional fairs didn’t embrace us, I would start my own – not waiting for permission or to be invited. With events organiser Kristophe Hofford as my partner, fair co-ordinator Vanessa Vainio keeping us in check and Graeme McQuarrie creating our visual identity, we set up Moniker Projects and self-funded our opening event, Moniker Art Fair, the first ever first dedicated to street art. We exhibited works by artists such as KAWS, Banksy, José Parlá, Os Gemeos, Stik and Swoon under one roof for the very first time.
The fair outgrew itself. We started with an inaugural attendance of 4,000 at east London’s Village Underground and within five years leapt to 12,000 visitors housed in the much larger Truman Brewery. In 2016, we sold the fair to a consortium, but kept the financial arm – the driving force – and continue to champion artist movements in urban culture and public art.
Today, Moniker Projects is 10 years old.