Jeff Koons, eat your heart out, two balloon dogs are the new darlings of the art world. Created by Whatsisname and titled: Who humps whom? they are daubed in the colours of the Union Jack and the European Union. Yes, the art world is finally having its Brexit moment and it was all on display at the recent Moniker Art Fair in Chelsea.
The urban and contemporary art fair decamped from its east London base to west London for its final show in the traditional fair format. This is the home turf of Charles Saatchi, patron saint of the Young British Artists (YBAs) movement and founder of the Saatchi Gallery just down the road. Perhaps he would have visited a place like this at the start of his collecting frenzy that netted Shark in Formaldehyde (Damien Hirst), Unmade Bed (Tracey Emin) and other contemporary masterpieces. The art on show in the 15,000 sq.ft Chelsea Sorting Office, off the Kings Road, is gritty, provocative, unapologetic, poignant, ghoulish, funereal, subversive, edgy …. Brexity.
Moniker has added a more coherent cultural vocabulary to the burgeoning Brexit jargon as artists are wont to do in times of crisis, soul-searching and disenchantment. Yasha Young curated the sprawling installation, George the Union is Cross, in an attempt to decipher the brain-numbing mess that is Brexit and its corrosive effects on the nation’s psyche. She says: “It has become impossible to ignore Brexit, and specifically impossible to avoid thinking about the damage it is already doing by creating borders, in the minds of the public as much as anything physical.
“It is why for my curation of the installation hall I have been moved to ask the artists what Brexit is to them: how it feels as an idea, where it hits hardest, which impulsive reaction it triggers.”
The 11 artists commissioned did not pull their punches; A tramp lies face down, his face peeking out from a sleeping bag surrounded by the detritus of life and various Brexit paraphernalia: ‘in/out’ placards; ‘divide and fool’ Union Jack flag; ‘things can only get bitter’ Evening Standard promo poster; three glasses of what looks suspiciously like urine used as paperweights to hold down ‘Get ready for Brexit’ print ads; a ‘back stop’ inscribed on the Irish flag; a wreath made to spell out ‘Great Britain’ with the ‘G’ dangling; a shopping basket crammed with tinned provisions from a food bank; a social cleansing sign completes the picture.
Afternoon tea was not palatable either, in F*ck the Tories, the charred table and its contents seemed like it had come out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie, all ashened and disturbing. A visitor told WLT how he was sure he had smelled Salmon in another installation room next door. Enough fare to trigger a raging heartburn, but the pervading stench was that of decay and decadence. Moniker’s swansong depicts art as an unvarnished mirror that reflects society warts and all.
Fair director, Tina Ziegler is however keen to steer Moniker away from its founding roots of urban and contemporary protest art towards the urgent global ecological crisis. She explains: “Let’s be honest, you can’t hang art on the walls if your home’s underwater. Moniker has from the beginning been about strong messages, important messages, and that is what has always made the art we exhibit and the installations we commission authentic.”