Sponsored  April 4, 2019  Jeremy Howell

Art Talk: Moniker Art Fair Director and Curator Tina Ziegler

Courtesy of Moniker Art Fair

Egle Zvirblyte and Jose Miguel Mendez installation, Moniker NYC 2018

In the past decade, interest in Urban and New Contemporary art has exploded among collectors and the general public alike. The massive amount of media coverage and overwhelmingly positive response to Bansky's recent Love is in the Bin ("Shredded Balloon Girl") is a testament to how far this kind of art, once seen as the work of mere hooligans, has come. Moniker Art Fair, dedicated to championing the Urban and New Contemporary Art scene, has played a big part in this transformation.

Celebrating ten years in 2019, Moniker Art Fairs has launched the careers of numerous internationally acclaimed artists and brought editions of its carefully curated fairs to cities in Europe and the United States. Art & Object recently had the opportunity to speak with Moniker's Director and Curator, Tina Ziegler, about how Moniker maintains its commitment to excellence in the ever-changing Urban and New Contemporary scene. We also spoke about the fair's upcoming New York City edition. Here is our conversation:

Courtesy Moniker Art Fair

Tina Ziegler

Jeremy Howell: For over a decade you have been at the forefront of the urban and New Contemporary Art scene. What drew you to this kind of art? What was the moment you knew it would be your career?

Tina Ziegler: My love for Urban and New Contemporary art started in around 2000, when I was a teenager growing up in Southern California, immersed in graffiti and urban culture.

I’ve always been drawn to art that challenges something; art that tries to create change beyond basic aesthetics and highlights or confronts real-world context, real-world problems. Urban art has always been closely in tune with the needs and issues arising within the fields of society, economy, ecology, and that's the core of what's kept me championing the scene.  Also the artists themselves are hard not to fall in love with, as they always made their own rules and formed their own collectives–that subculture and the loyalty to it has always fascinated me.

I knew I found my place early on, but I didn’t realize I could make a career out of it until I was in university in Barcelona, where my professors encouraged me to pursue my goals of becoming an art curator that specialized in the area. From there, I went on to do my thesis and publish a book about the New Contemporary art movement, and I’ve never looked back since.

JH: Moniker Art Fair prides itself on curating fairs that cut through art fads and the general noise of the art world. Can you talk a bit about the fair's curation process and how you work to ensure that the fairs are exhibiting artists doing truly impactful and important work?

TZ: It’s one of the most challenging parts of being an art fair director and curator–remaining ahead of the curve and ignoring the fads that come and go. As a director of the fair, it's important to exhibit artists and galleries that have a strong reputation, that will attract collectors and pull in audiences. However, as curator, it's equally important to exhibit artists that are just touching the surface; artists that show true potential.

I try to keep a balance at Moniker by spotlighting talent that I strongly believe is worth the attention, while working with the more recognized names to encourage and challenge them to do something different or more experimental at Moniker.  I work directly with the artists and exhibitors to ensure that each space is curated and presenting work that is relevant. The goal is to make the fair a place for discovery, fascination and appreciation, and by doing so we aim to remain ahead of the rest and offer visitors a high-quality, curated art experience.

Sam Roberts

Moniker London 2018

JH: How does American Urban Art differ stylistically and tonally from European Urban Art? Do you find that Urban Art is more accepted in America or Europe?

TZ: I think the origins of Urban art are more heavily linked directly to graffiti and tagging in the US, whereas in the EU people were exploring more with stencils and wheat-pasting early on. And then there's the landscape itself: small cobblestones, alleyways, and thousand-year-old buildings: people don’t have much hidden space within the city, so stencils and wheat pastes were great solutions. Whereas in America, you have vast landscapes, highways, etc, so graffiti makes more sense.

One of the things particularly striking about urban art is how much of a 'hive mind' collaborative effort the scene is. You'll see stylistic ideas that have been appreciated, absorbed, changed and then put back out to the world regularly, and there's a real sense that individual artists are contributing to an 'ideas pool' to be messed around with, embellished, distorted and so on.

Definable differences are less likely to be about technique, then, and more about messages being conveyed. America is facing some very specific issues concerning its societal tensions, its regression within the political world when it comes to ecological responsibility, prejudices erupting as a symptom of Trump's ascendancy: those are American problems (in the first instance, at least), and they appear thematically within the works of American artists, as you can imagine. Europe has its own political intrigues and sadnesses right now: similar issues, but with different angles, and therefore the underlying messages are a little different.

Sam Roberts

Installation by Dan Rawling, Moniker London 2018

JH: How does a stunt like Bansky's Shredded Balloon Girl, which got massive amounts of media attention, effect Urban Art as a whole?

TZ: It gets people talking, more than anything else. There are endless debates to be had on the merits of a stunt like that, but it's pretty easy to see why it grabbed a lot of attention: it speaks to a public notion of art still feeling like an elitist institution, which for all of the prominence of urban art in more recent years never really goes away. How much it actually goes towards changing that sense of elitism is definitely something that could be argued about for a very long time, and artists poking fun at the paradigms they've achieved success within is nothing specifically new of course, but again: this one really struck a chord with a lot of people, which can only be a good thing.

JH: Moniker has a fabulous new venue for its 2019 NY edition. What else makes this year's NY edition special?

TZ: We're trying to take a step back this year and look at collecting as a concept. A lot of fairs are happy to tell you what to collect, but few of them explore why you're doing it. Collectors Day, which debuts this year, will address that directly, inviting attendees to be a little more introspective about their goals and motives, helping them to shape their collecting journey and arming them with confidence that will hopefully be carried into the fair. We've always been proud of our razor-sharp curation each year, and the focus is of course still primarily on the artists themselves, but I don't think it hurts to say "what about you, the collector? What makes you special, and how can your collection reflect that?"

Sam Roberts

Moniker London 2018

JH: You provide space to galleries that are two years old or less. What is exciting about having these young galleries at the fair?

TZ: In asking young galleries to appear at an event, you're always going to be exhibiting works by artists that have only just found their feet. If the goal for Moniker is to be presenting art that you don't know yet but certainly will in a year's time, we need a route to finding that art. In some cases, sure, there are direct discoveries by my team and I, but there are new, incredibly impressive galleries setting up every year, and I like to be surprised with what they bring to the table, and the names that they put forward to exhibit. Part of the reason there's no wall space left in my home is because each year the fair brings unexpected works that as a collector I find impossible to walk by, and a lot of those are from artists who have only just realized their art is even worth collecting. It's vital, and urgent, and it's what makes us different.

JH:  Moniker goes beyond what a traditional art fair does and also hosts events like talks, film screenings, and mural programs. Are there any interesting events in the lead up to this year's NY edition?

TZ: Collectors Day is the core focus for me, not just in terms of its addition to the program but in terms of what we're saying: collecting is a joint effort between those creating art and those buying it, and while it's right to expect artists to put in hard work, it's also right to expect collectors to grow in knowledge and ambition too. But outside of extremely elite art advisory services, no one is supporting collectors enough. We aim to address that this year.

That means talks, seminars, panel discussions: it means answering the questions that most collectors will have concerning anything from investment, to authenticity, to collecting enduring artists vs fads, but also asking them questions and getting them to consider why they want to collect and how they want to go about it.

Sam Roberts

Artwork by HERA at Moniker London 2018

JH: This year marks the 10th anniversary of Moniker's art fairs. As someone who has been with Moniker since its early days, how has Moniker's mission evolved?

TZ: We've grown with the urban and contemporary scenes. As more galleries have embraced those markets, they've found a home in Moniker, which has meant constantly having to scale up ambitions to be able to showcase what has become an incredibly broad church.

What's striking about that is that in juxtaposition to the explosion of artwork being produced, we've had to become incredibly discerning and sharp with our editing of the event: there is so much art to choose from and so many ways to get visual stimulation, that the event itself has become more immersive, more experiential.

Our mission has always been to help art collectors focus, and to continue to offer a platform for urban and new contemporary artists to experiment while exploring their own work and creativity.

About the Author

Jeremy Howell

Jeremy Howell is the Co-Founder and Editor of Art & Object. 

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