Text: Alec Coiro
All Images Courtesy of The Moniker Art Fair
Tina Ziegler is the person to talk to about urban contemporary art. Since tweenage, it’s been her single focus. “I’ve been a champion of urban art and street art since I was 13. My older brother was a graffiti artist, so that’s when I got introduced to it. And I haven’t done anything else.” Not only did she get into the American scene early, she took her interests to Europe at an age when most kids are still trying to figure out their driving test. “When I was 18 or 19 I said, ‘I’m done with America,’ so I got a one-way ticket to Barcelona and settled there, and started doing a lot of shows and started a blog called ‘Hunt and Gather Art,’ one of the first blogs that was documenting this movement at the time, and from the blog I was recruited to run a gallery in London when I was 24. So I went to London and started a gallery called London Miles, which was the first gallery in the UK that was exhibiting American artists from this urban pop surrealist movement that was defining California at the time.” From there she began to work with other galleries and eventually founded Moniker, which had its first show in London almost a decade ago. “I founded the fair in 2010 with four partners. In 2016 I took over as director with very short notice, so there wasn’t much I could change. This last edition I had 11 months to plan it, so I rebranded the fair, I built a whole new website, I took a 30,000 sq. foot space, doubled the number of exhibitors, introduced a talks and film program, introduced a VIP program, really tried to position Moniker as the leading urban contemporary art fair. It was really really successful, so my ambitions paid off.”
Not only does Ziegler riding the cresting wave of the emerging movement, she also knows the history of the urban contemporary art, and can probably define it more fluently than anyone. But when I talk to her she’s careful to get it right and not be schematic. “I’ve had a lot of conversations trying to define what we are. Because yes are roots are in graffiti, yet our roots also go back to comic book culture and pop art. But there’s this new movement that has formed and it has hard to define. The best way I can define it is as urban and new contemporary art because we’re not necessarily graffiti artists, but it’s not that. It’s very much evolved into many influences. A lot of our artists operate on the street, but it’s not letter work. It’s not graffiti as you would call it traditionally. It’s turned almost into fine art illustration that you find on the streets.”
For Ziegler, the history is also key to understanding and defining urban contemporary art. “It’s been a developing conversation over the past ten years. Obviously we can run links back to subway graffiti, but we can trace it all the way back to hobos riding the rails tracing their monikers in chalk.” Thus the name of the fair is a callback to those very hobos who prefigured graffiti tagging up their depression era.
With the movement and the fair expanding, Ziegler naturally wanted to branch out. “There are a lot places a fair can go, but I felt that the natural place for a fair focusing on urban contemporary art was Brooklyn because of the history that Brooklyn has with this movement.” Within Brooklyn, she found the Greenpoint Terminal, a space that she says, “Felt like home.” “It has all the character of our venue in London…It’s a little rough around the edges…It’s not just a white tent.”
And for Ziegler, Moniker is more than just an art fair; it’s a life’s work. Talking to her, it’s clear how much her own passion for what she does reflects the passion that, for her, ultimately unites the artists she works with: “For me it’s not so much what they do or how they do it. It’s the inspiration behind why they do it.”
The Moniker International Art Fair runs from May 3rd to May 6th at Greenpoint Terminal Warehouse.
A lot of our artists operate on the street, but it’s not letter work. It’s not graffiti as you would call it traditionally. It’s turned almost into fine art illustration that you find on the streets.