ARTUNER Director of Sales Maria-Theresia Pongracz talks about what she misses the most in Vienna, her last project, personal ‘musts’ when in town, and more…
How did you end up working in the art world?
I grew up with the late Austrian artist Prof. Ernst Fuchs who spent every minute of my childhood with me. My mother Dr. Cornelia Mensdorff-Pouilly was his manager in the 80s and 90s, so we always travelled together and I remember his mother teaching me how to draw before I could even walk. I learned about drawing, painting and sculpting from a very young age and spent countless hours at Viennese museums with him. First and foremost the KHM, where we studied Rubens, Breughel, and the Dutch masters. To distance myself from my family’s type of art, I first envisioned a career in fashion editorial and art direction. I therefore moved to NYC in 2005 to start an internship at the Austrian Cultural Forum under Christoph Thun-Hohenstein. I was still modeling at the time and also explored internships at Design Offices, a Fashion PR firm and finally at the US Vogue. I made my first big art deal during that time which gave me the opportunity to invest in studying at the New School of which Parsons is probably the most well known department. Towards the second part of my Liberal Arts Studies, I started focusing more and more on Photography, Film and Contemporary Art. I believe this was the time, when I decided to pursue a career in Contemporary Art instead of Fashion.
What was the latest project you did in Vienna?
Since I have been living overseas for the past 12 years, I rarely come to Vienna unfortunately. The last and probably the only project I did in Vienna was an exhibition with Yoko Ono at the Ernst Fuchs Museum in 2013. Yoko loves Vienna and it was in between her retrospectives at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt, and the Guggenheim in Bilbao so the moment was right to do such an extensive project. I will surely do another one when the time is right.
Where are you based now? Do you miss something form Vienna?
I am currently based in between New York and London where I have been collaborating with the Italian Collector and curator Eugenio Re Rebaudengo. I do miss Vienna from time to time, especially when it gets too hectic in the metropoles I decided to live. I miss the quiet pace and the green, coffee houses, Austrian food and my horses.
Do you think that the quiet and sometimes slow Vienna can be good for creativity?
I definitely think so, It’s similar to Berlin although you have quite a party scene in Berlin. Vienna has great life quality and is not overpriced like other cosmopolitan cities. Artists also have a vast cultural offer to feed from.
Did Vienna change at all since you moved out?
A lot of things have changed since I left in 2005. It has become more international which is extremely important in my opinion. More artists have moved here, there is a community.
What is contemporary Vienna for you?
As said, in times when nationalism is on the rise, I am particularly happy that Vienna voted the way it did this past fall. We need diversity in Vienna and people from all backgrounds, as long as everyone contributes to the society of course. Contemporary Vienna is international and open-minded.
If you bring someone with you to Vienna who is interested in contemporary art, what are your recommendations? What is the “must”?
I always go to the MuseumsQuartier to check out what’s happening at the mumok and the Kunsthalle, as well as sometimes visit the Leopold Museum. Nearby is the KHM where the English curator Jasper Sharp has been in charge of the Contemporary Program. I am particularly excited about Californian artist Kathleen Ryan’s exhibition at the Theseus Temple in the Burggarten which belongs to the Contemporary Division of the KHM. I also love the Albertina which currently hosts a retrospective of the Austrian Artist Eduard Angeli, who is a very close family friend and one of my favorite Austrian artists. Another great venue for contemporary art is the Secession, where recently works by my friend Svenja Deininger were shown.
What is your favorite building in Vienna?
This is a hard one, since I have so many! I love everything Otto Wagner did, so also the Ernst Fuchs Museum in Hütteldorf of course which was the only large house he built for himself. I also love the Albertina and the Secession. Besides more historical architecture, I’m a big fan of Brutalism, mid-century, sixties’ and seventies’ architecture. I love all Flak Towers, one in the Arenbergpark, the Augarten and the other in the Esterhazypark which also houses the Haus des Meeres. The Looshaus, Wien Museum, Volksgarten, and the Grand Ferdinand are also very cool retro. Mostly it’s random buildings I discover on my strolls through the 7th, 6th, 9th and the center more than the over the top imperial architecture.
What about Viennese people. How do you describe them to someone who has never been to the city?
Viennese are very particular and I am one of them; born and raised. For me a Viennese is only the one born in Vienna, it is not people from other States in Austria that have moved to Vienna, even if they have lived there for years. Viennese are similar to Parisians there is no other comparison. Melancholic, sentimental, grumpy and always complaining about something. They also have a unique sense of humor however and words or sayings for things that only exist in Austria. Viennese need their time for things and they need their time alone, back in the day that was spend in the old coffee houses or in the park. They also love to be social however, to indulge in food, wine, dance and music. Viennese are very cultural and I believe there is a study that Viennese go to the theatre more often than anyone else.
What do you always bring back as a souvenir from Austria?
I often bring the typical sweets Mozartkugeln and Sachertorte back for my friends in the US and UK. Everyone loves that. For myself it’s Kaesepappel Tee which heals pretty much everything.
Vienna has been selected as the best livable city for the 8th time this year, what makes it the best place to live in in your opinion?
I completely agree with that. Vienna has unbeatable housing, the apartments are large, well done, the ceilings are high and the streets are quiet. Rents are still affordable and you get more square footage than anywhere else. It’s a very clean and safe city. Taxation is fine compared to other places, and the cultural offer is vast and also affordable. One is in the country within 30min drive outside of the city and there are even lakes nearby. Schools are affordable and universities are good. Food is of course great and lots of produce comes from local farming. Who knows maybe I’ll move back one day.
This year for the eighth time, Vienna was named the world’s top city for quality of life. We asked some Viennese art professionals who live abroad if they see changes in Vienna and what they love the most about the Austrian capital. Read other interviews here