On a cloudy Friday morning in Shoreditch a small crowd has gathered around a long-legged, dark-haired girl in cowboy boots with a spray can in her hand. Standing in front of the high brick wall of a Victorian warehouse, she sprays a graceful scarlet line across the worn brown bricks as the cameras snap around her.
Hera, 30, is one half of the German street art duo Herakut. Watching as she sketches out her figure is her painting partner, Akut. As soon as the outline is completed he will use his photo-realist skills to create a face with the spooky immediacy of a B-movie star.
Inside the building, Herakut’s canvases are among those on display in a new fair, Moniker International, which is dedicated to urban art and comprises six gallery booths and six curated spaces.
Given the acclaim showered upon the likes of Banksy and Shepherd Fairey, one would think that graffiti art was now as mainstream as any other contemporary genre. Not so, according to the fair’s co-director Frankie Shea, who represents a clutch of artists, including Herakut, who prefer public to private space. “I started Moniker because I was sick of not being able to get my gallery, Campbarbossa, into more mainstream fairs,” he explains.
On the morning after the inauguration, he is delighted that he had the courage of his convictions. Not only have all four Herakut canvases sold (from £2,250 to £7,000) but so have dozens of other works. The top seller, inevitably perhaps, was a secondary-market Banksy, “Flower Thrower”, which was sold by east London gallery Black Rat Projects for £95,000.
“Everything is selling really well,” said Marsea Goldberg of Los Angeles gallery New Image art, who was especially pleased with the sale of beautiful silk-screened faces overlaid with calligraphy by LA artist Retner ($6,000 each). “Britain is less familiar with street art than the US, but people are increasingly enthusiastic.”
Retner, who was discovered by Jeffrey Deitch, director of the LA Museum of Contemporary Art, in Goldberg’s gallery, will be on show at MoCA in 2011.
Moniker’s success is a sign that, even in the UK, street art is coming in from the cold. Indeed, the vibrant diversity of paintings on display, from abstract to figurative, collage to calligraphy, bears little relation to traditional notions of graffiti. “Of course street artists also work in studios,” says Shea. Otherwise, how would they sell anything?
Those who wish to see genuine outsider art must travel to Chalk Farm in north London. Here, the unprepossessing façade of the public library conceals the cornucopia of glories that is the Museum of Everything. For the second year running, this rigorously uncommercial temporary space has been dedicated to works by unknown talents, most of whom had no pretensions to making art at all.
A riveting journey through vintage memorabilia, from Victorian photographs and 1950s circus banners to merry-go-round horses and stuffed animals, the exhibition has been co-curated by British pop artist Sir Peter Blake, whose collections of dolls, shellboxes and tapestries – handwoven by a second world war veteran as therapy for his injuries – form part of the display. Indeed, as you wander through the scarlet-painted, low-ceilinged rooms, each one more curious, colourful and cluttered than the last, you could be in an installation by Sir Peter.
On one level a voyage through Moniker and the Museum of Everything feels as if one has entered a parallel universe to the gloss and glamour of Frieze. Yet these planets touch more often than one might think. On Thursday at the Museum of Everything, Sir Peter was in conversation with fashionable taxidermy artist Polly Morgan. The latter, who recently enjoyed a solo show at leading Piccadilly space Haunch of Venison, has her hackle-raisingly creepy “Carrion Call” – a wooden coffin with the cracks stuffed with quail chicks – on sale at Moniker.
As for Sir Peter, when I ask him for a comment on the Museum of Everything, he tells me that it is “a trigger for memories.” His own work, meanwhile, is selling excellently this week at Frieze.
See www.ft.com/arts-extra for online and video coverage of Frieze Art Fair