With nearly 15 art fairs all taking place during the year's busiest week for contemporary art, from art behemoths Frieze and Frieze Masters to the quainter Animal Art Fair in Chelsea – not to mention hundreds of exhibitions across the city – London's art scene is fairly overwhelming at the moment. Not that such hip, urban alternative fairs as Moniker Art Fair and The Other Art Fair are exactly beacons of calm amidst the storm, but their laid-back attitude and friendly, accessible atmosphere make for a refreshing change.
Part of what has been disillusioning Frieze critics this year is the sense that it's all just a big "art supermarket" for the super-rich. But it's not simply the fact that it's a commercial fair – it's the sense of exclusion resulting from the fact that average visitors, seeking only to browse, are reminded at every turn that browsing is all they could hope to afford. The often astronomical prices of artworks are rarely disclosed to casual passers-by, but negotiated with well-heeled agents at gallery stands, or even arranged privately both before and after the fair's official opening.
What a change, then, to enter The Other Art Fair, held alongside Moniker Art Fair in The Old Truman Brewery in the heart of ultra-trendy Shoreditch, where several "Art Payment Desks" announce themselves boldly with large signs and – incredibly – cash tills. Prices are marked on most artworks, too, and since The Other Art Fair cuts out the middleman of commercial galleries, you have the chance to meet individual artists to discuss their work before making a purchase.
This model is not without its disadvantages, however – you may find yourself cornered by incredibly enthusiastic artists eager to snare you into a) a lengthy discussion about the politics of the art world or b) an interminable sales-pitch about their artistic process. On the whole, though, what Moniker and The Other Art Fair have succeeded in doing is fostering a direct relationship with artists, and emphasising its more human, social elements.
The artwork on display varies hugely in quality, from Moniker's trademark urban aesthetic and street art-inspired offerings to some fairly safe photography and some folksy faux-animal heads that would look right at home in a Shoreditch café. There are of course some real gems to be found: look out for Faizal Lulat's Bauhaus-inspired pieces in bold primary colours; and Maria Konstanse's surreal photography, which is best described as a subtler, less kitschy version of Miles Aldridge.
The atmosphere in The Old Truman Brewery is mainly one of fun and of homegrown, art-studenty experimentation, with young fairgoers circling around the central bar and DJ booth. I saw my first 3-D printer live in action at Modla's stand, feeling witness to a brave new world of design and technology's intersection; Moniker Projects' section of the fair featured a vintage typewriter, inviting guests to have a go; and I heard rumours of a taxidermy demonstration and workshop this weekend. Of course, there were also the requisite performance artists meandering through the fair, donning Halloween masks or full-body vinyl blow-up doll suits.
Much more fun than your average fair, Moniker and The Other Art Fair are a real slice of Shoreditch style – young, hip, and affordable for anyone with a modest art budget.