Art Collector Elsa König

After traveling around and having lived abroad in their early 20s, young couple Elsa König and her partner now live in their hometown Vienna. Elsa’s apartment is located in a former factory building in the 7th district and was refurnished in the 1970s by her mother, gallerist Christine König, influenced by the style of Adolf Loos, with lots of functional furniture and built-ins. Both Elsa, who is an art historian and manager in the fields of contemporary art, and Benjamin who is an architect were surrounded by art since they were little, so it stands to reason that they started buying art at an early age. I met them on a wonderful sunny day to ask all about their passion for contemporary art and Vienna.

Elsa, was it obvious for you that you would end up working in the field of art?
Elsa: When I was at school, I was sure I wanted to do something totally different because everyone expected me to work in the field of arts, as my mother does. So I started studying law in Vienna… After two days, however, I realized I couldn’t do it at all. I switched to art history, which was a very spontaneous idea, as I had no plan B besides studying law. I asked myself what my real field of interest was and as the result was (contemporary) art, I decided art history was the right thing for me to do.

Let’s talk about collecting – not everyone has the desire to own artworks. How did it start for you?
E: For birthdays, for Christmas, or whenever I got a present from my mother, it was art. I also received a lot of artworks from her artist friends. Art was always in my house and on my mind. Once I was 18 or 19, whenever I saw something I was really into – if it was within my limited budget – I’d buy it. During that time I was helping my mother out and went to a lot of art fairs with her. I clearly was in that environment where people buy art. I saw it, I spoke to people, and sometimes I thought ‘I want to live with it’. It’s not about owning something, it’s more about being surrounded by things that interest and inspire you and they become an important part in your daily life

What speaks to you in artworks? What is your trigger?
E: It’s always something that has to touch me from the very first moment. At the beginning, I was not necessarily following one topic or one direction. Since Benjamin and I started collecting together some years ago, we focused on post-conceptual artworks as well as appropriation art from artists of our generation. It can of course be different media. Often it’s humorous and witty, sometimes it’s very political, about something important and related to the rest of the world. We are interested in things that open our minds and engage with current topics.

How many artworks do you own?
E: I have no idea. Everything you see here, but a lot of things are in drawers as well. We re-hang from time to time. When I’m not into some pieces anymore, I just put them away. Sometimes I re-discover them few years later!

Is your decision-making process different now that you collect as a couple, do you argue about the decisions?
Benjamin: Yes, of course, we are debating them.
E: Yes, sometimes we have different opinions, different points of view.

What was the first piece you bought together?
B: It was from Toni Schmale, I think.

Do you mostly buy here in Austria or Austrian artists?
E: No, international artists. We’re not limited to any countries or borders.

Is it important for you to know the artists personally?
B: Well, more or less, at least in some cases…
E: If that happens, it is normally by chance, it does not influence our decisions.
B: To me it’s important to see how the personality of the artist works. E.g. Toni Schmale was a buy where I was very conscious of who she is, I knew her from the academy and was aware that she’s an interesting person. I believe a person that is open-minded and reflected also has the chance to look into the future. That’s important to me.
E: That is true. Knowing the artist, knowing more about the artist’s background and things that the artist is interested in – besides the things we research and know by reading about them – of course can be fruitful. But it’s not a decisive factor for us if we are into a piece of art.

What about artworks for your child? Does your son own anything yet?
E: There is this huge drawing of a bear, something my mother got from Jimmie Durham, an artist she has been working with for a long time. This bear was the first piece our son Bruno got right after he was born. And then there were some other things he got as presents from artist friends.

Let’s talk about Vienna. I bet you both traveled quite a bit. You were born here, but was it a conscious decision to stay here?
E: I lived in New York in my early 20s, interning at the MoMA and Neue Galerie, as well as in galleries. I loved it! But it was clear to me that I wanted to finish my studies in Vienna. Right after university, I met Benjamin, who just finished the academy of applied arts at that time, he’s an architect. He started his business in Vienna, I got a job here, then we had the baby. It was kind of natural to stay here.

Do you see the advantages of living in Vienna? For the 8th time in a row the it is ‘best city to live in’ – what do you think makes it that way?
E: As everybody says, the quality of living is very high. We have beautiful apartments, public parks are everywhere, you can afford a living. There are really nice restaurants and coffee shops. The art scene is very interesting in Vienna, even though until recently people thought it is a traditional and conservative place. The contemporary art world is very present and active, especially the young and upcoming one.

When friends visit you, and they are interested in contemporary art, what is your weekend tour, what would you show them?
E: I would show them the three main gallery streets (Eschenbachgasse, Seilerstätte, Schleifmühlgasse), Salvatore Viviano’s One Work Gallery, the galleries that were recently started by our friends Nathalie Halgand, Sophie Tappeiner and Magdalena Zeller & Cornelis van Almsick, some of the many off-spaces (e.g. New Jörg or wellwellwell) and of course museums and institutions, depending on the shows that are on.

Which artists should people follow if they want to dive into the young art scene here?
E: We just went to the gallery opening of Zeller van Almsick and bought a small painting by Michael Fanta. It’s already our second piece by him, I gave Benjamin a beautiful little print some years ago.
B: I think Andreas Duscha is interesting, and Björn Kämmerer in terms of film making. Toni Schmale of course.
E: Since many years I admire the work of Ovidiu Anton, he’s a close friend of mine as well.
B: Maria Anwander – I don’t know if she’s living in Vienna though.

Favorite places?
E: Every Saturday and Sunday (and sometimes even during the week…) we have breakfast at Espresso (Burggasse 57) we just love it! For lunch I like St. Joseph, Hidden Kitchen Park owned by my friend Julia Kutas and Un Petit Cafe, they serve the best bulgur salad! Sosaku is a delicious Sushi place, Victus and Mili nice for drinks and dinner, and ice cream we get at Veganista or Schelato, matcha smoothies and onigiris at Cha No Ma,… My list is endless!
B: Café Korb is another all-time favourite, as well as Kleines Café, Loos Bar, Trzesniewski in the first district. Salzamt is becoming great again. Wunderbar, Future Garden, Mochi Ramen.

If you had to explain what Vienna is in one sentence, what would it be?
E: All these discoveries and things that pop up… Like I said before, Vienna has this very high quality of living and even though you believe it’s a traditional, boring, royal city, it has all those treasures you simply have to know and that make it such a joyful and cool place to live.

What makes it a cool place?
E: I guess a young scene that is opening up art galleries or restaurants, artists living and studying here. At least in our field, this is what makes it interesting.
B: At the same time, due to its density, it has this permanent clash of worlds, where in the same neighborhood different people of all ages, backgrounds and nationalities mingle. Even though this might happen less speedy, compared to other cities…
E: A thing that’s also very special, maybe even unique compared to other international cities: almost everything is within walking distance! We do everything on foot or by bike, we don’t even have a car and hardly ever use public transport. It’s amazing.

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21 – 24 September 2017
Marx Halle Vienna

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