“I find the focus on Eastern Europe extremely interesting and very important.” – Hildegund Amanshauser

The Salzburg International Summer Academy of Fine Arts, founded in 1953 by Oskar Kokoschka as the “School of Vision” in Hohensalzburg Fortress, is the oldest of its kind in Europe. Read an interview with Hildegund Amanshauser, the director of the Academy to find out about the studying process, students, and pressing issues in Salzburg.

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Kristina Kulakova: Who are your students?
Hildegund Amanshauser: Everybody can study with us ­– from all over the world and every background. Our statistics show that approximately 2/3 in one or the other way are professionals (art students or working in the artistic field). Then 1/3 are not professional artists, in the sense that they don’t earn money with art. Our program and our courses have quite the high level, so our students are people who are really involved in art, whether it is their own art, art history, or the art world, but they can have other professions, too.

How many students have gotten through the academy overall?
This year we have approximately 320 for 20 courses. It’s very hard to say the total number; the academy was founded in 1953. There were years when they had 700 students and so on. It must be thousands, tens of thousands, really a lot.

What are the main criteria when you select a teacher for the program?
I worked as a curator for a very long time, and I would say I am curating the program. I have a school in mind, which is really up to date and discussing the questions that are being discussed in the art world right now. But I also have in mind an idea of who our students can be or should be, and therefore I try to find the right teachers for the students and for my idea of the academy.

What did you learn from students?
Every noon we have lunch talks and teaching artists present their work; after this there are many discussions, and I always find it very interesting because people from all around the world often change our Western view on things, the world and art. It is very important to me. Another fascinating discovery is the difference between how artists ask questions to other artists and how art historians like me ask questions.

Final presentation, course of Paolo Woods. Photo: Pia Streicher

Final presentation, course of Paolo Woods. Photo: Pia Streicher

What is the main difference?
My view is more an art historical view in the sense of the development of the art world. Artists are coming more from production; their questions are about how to produce, what is their interest in terms of producing.

Who defines art history?
Art history was developed in the 19th century, and it is always being rewritten, like any other history. For example, in the 1990s they started to rediscover the art history of women. I think history in science or art is always a power game. Who has the power or has the opportunity to be heard by the public always changes, and there is not one player who determines what is going to be historically important or not.

The Summer Academy is very well known and successful. Have you had the thought to expand it to a whole year program?
Oh no! (laughs) What is really interesting about this summer academy – it is a very open field as a concentrated education and platform for discourse. We have very interesting artists who teach here, but they only come for two or three weeks; they would never like to be here for the entire year. So we have one, two, three weeks courses. That’s the specific thing: Students and teachers really concentrate the entire period only on this course in Salzburg and on producing art and presenting it – you cannot do it the entire year with the same involvement and intensity.

Can you describe the study process?
Teachers and students are absolutely free, so every course is different and the methods depend a lot on the teacher. The studios are open from 9:30 am to 9:00 pm, and they can do whatever they want. Everyone is very open to suggestions, and there are no standard methods of giving tasks and getting in contact with students. Some teachers participate in the creation process and producing something new, others show films – it is a really great mixture.

Course of Norbert Bisky. Photo: Pia Streicher.

Course of Norbert Bisky. Photo: Pia Streicher.

What are the key topics you talk about throughout all of your courses?
We discuss political art, the question of society and art, and these kinds of things. This year in the lectures and discussions our main topic is the city.

There are many exhibitions about urbanism at the moment in different countries. In the development of cities it is an obvious topic, and the mission is very clear – to make the lives of citizens better, and it is expected to talk about it. But what about cities like Vienna or Salzburg, where the infrastructure is developed, and it works when not perfect but well. What are the problems/questions you discuss?
Salzburg has one big problem: mass tourism. The UNESCO heritage thing has turned the inner city into a big event and shopping mall, so the city is not for the population anymore. A citizen might work as a waiter or in the shops, but they can’t live there anymore because there are too many tourists. And then there is, of course, the question of the housing prices, which are too expensive. Salzburg is a city where there are many fights about whether there should be something new or not. The majority of locals are against it because in general they are not big fans of changes.

What is the way forward?
I think the challenge at the moment in cities like Salzburg is to develop participatory projects. You have to do it participatory, but it is extremely difficult because who can participate in these processes? I can’t because I have to work all the time; young families can’t either – they have small children and they have to work. So it is always the older generations. Another factor: Younger people are seeking more opportunities and moving to the bigger cities. Sometimes they come back, it depends on the jobs. Politics has to find a way to integrate everybody. You can’t only integrate the pensioners, who are house owners and the ones who really have the time and scream very loudly. You have to talk to migrants and young people. I think there is a way to integrate them into the process, but you have to try really hard.

How does the Academy affect the art scene in Salzburg? What does it bring?
My colleagues always say it is important in terms of creating a public, and our teachers also exhibit at the museums and art spaces and so on. I think it makes the scene in Salzburg livelier.

Final presentation, course of Paolo Woods. Photo: Pia Streicher

Final presentation, course of Paolo Woods. Photo: Pia Streicher

What is your opinion of the art scene in Salzburg?
I lived in other cities; there were small cities among them, like Salzburg, and I think the art scene here is very interesting, there is a lot going on. We have Ropac gallery, the blue-chip gallery. We also have artist initiatives, where artists do the program all year round. We have the Kunstverein and the Museum of Modern Art, and there are new directors at both of them. Right now is a very interesting moment because people have come from somewhere else and brought their new ideas here. For such a small city it is great, as well as the location – we are very close to Vienna and Munich.

What kind of art interests you?
This year our program is called: “How does the world come into the picture?”. I think what really fascinates me is that art is a very specific way to deal with the world and with our society and has a capacity to describe and show the world in a specific way, which enlightens you or me.
There are aesthetics, of course, as well. I love going to galleries of old art as well, for example the KHM (Museum of Art History). It has to do with an experience, which I really like.

What do you think about the increasing prices on the art market?
What is always seen by the public are Jeff Koons, Cindy Sherman, and other big names, but it is only the tip of an iceberg. Underneath there is a big art world with a lot of people, who don’t have a lot of money but do incredibly interesting art. I’m happy that there are artfaires like the VIENNAFAIR, where you can find a lot of artworks, which you could afford. And these things interest me more to be honest. Also the focus on Eastern Europe I find extremely interesting and very important.

Which country fascinates you the most?
In terms of art I think Poland is very interesting at the moment.

Hildegund Amanshauser is an art historian, curator, and writer. Since 2009 she has been the director of the Salzburg International Summer Academy of Fine Arts.
2004–2009 Professor of Fine Arts/Art and the Public at the Münster Academy of Fine Arts
1992–2004 Director of the Salzburg Kunstverein
1992 Austrian commissioner for São Paulo Biennale
1987–1992 General secretary of the Vienna Secession
1985–1987 Curator for Photography and Works on Paper, Museum of Modern Art, Vienna
Numerous publications on modern and contemporary art

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