Ten emerging international curators, part of BLOCKFREI‘s annual curators-in-residence program Curators’ Agenda, visited viennacontemporary. Here’s what impressed them the most.
Bahar Ahu Sağın
I believe mission of art is not to make any circumstance better, but it should address the existing situation, generate a discussion platform and raise awareness in frames of aesthetics. It should generate bridges, not only between the cultures, but also between individuals and within people themselves. viennacontemporary 17 felt like a bridge in many terms; between past and future by featuring the young artists alongside with the established artists, cultures as there is a good balance between local and non-local galleries, ideas as you can find your path through the fair by following your personal mind map. The fair, welcoming more than 110 galleries and institutions from 27 countries, enabled the audience to get a comprehensive idea about the current art market.
My personal highlight of the fair was Focus: Hungary-Two Way Movement, curated by Hungarian art historian and critic József Mélyi, which was focusing on the Hungarian neo-avant-garde art of the 1970s. This exhibition has a very important notion in terms of revisiting the historical relations among artists, authorities and censorship. For instance, Károly Kismányoky’s exhibited work With the Eyes of Others can be considered as one of the very strong indicators of how art can raise awareness to the existing situations. Him starting to use the cut out eyes on his works has a very progressive, critical and also political stance. In a place and time when all artistic production were governed by the authorities and not to mention subjected to censorship laws leave the audience with questions regarding to today’s course of events.
In line with that, here is a few words to add about a black and white photo-series that impressed me much; Transformations by Kálmán Szijártó, one of the founding members of the Pécs Workshop, represented by acb Gallery from Budapest. The photographs just strike you at first glance and once you understand that it was actually the artist’s reflection on the mirror which was photographed instead of himself directly, the work diffuses in you by leading you towards a shift between perception and reality.
Being considered as a melting point for contemporary art scene, Vienna also holds a position of bridging cultural activities. Therefore I believe viennacontemporary 2017 has successfully managed to foster such kind of dialogue.
Bahar Ahu Sağın (Turkey, 1984) is working as an exhibition projects specialist at Sakıp Sabancı Museum in Istanbul. She holds a BA degree in Economics from Koç University and is completing her MA degree in Arts Management at Yeditepe University. She is currently conducting her thesis research on collaborative art practices. Her main research is concentrated on media and performance arts. She is also a collaborator in the amberplatform, which explores the possible affinities between the fields of art and technology.
It has been my first time in Wien and I’m really impressed by the city, mostly for its peculiar and balanced mix of established cultural institutions as well as for the vibrant underground art landscape.
A clear evidence of this atmosphere is, for instance, the simultaneity and the harmonic coexistence of two completely different events happening in the city at the same moment, two dissimilar but complementary approaches to the current art scenario: viennacontemporary, an innovative and quite recent art fair with a clear commercial purpose and a special attention to the emerging art market and Parallel, a collateral event to the official fair, deeply related to the Viennese independent art scene and focused on giving the chance to young artists and off spaces to show their art and projects.
The structure behind viennacontemporary is particularly interesting for the complexity of the concept which characterizes it: different insights about both local and global art, accompanied by an inusual overview of the eastern art world, too often undervalued from the actual debate about the contemporary art movements.
The special show dedicated to the Hungarian radical avant-garde of the 1960s and 1970s and curated by Jozsef Mélyi opens a new interpretive perspective on the role that these artists have played within the contemporary context, by giving new light and the right value to important pioneers, coming from this specific geographical area, who have developed experimental researches related to conceptual/body/ land art.
Considerable is also the Cinema programme, curated by Olaf Stüber, which has presented films and videos of Austrian and international artists submitted by the galleries participating in viennacontemporary. Particularly fascinating, for the way they deal with controversial and current issues, are two videos screened in this section.
How to properly touch a girl so you don’t creep her out? Realized by the feminist Turkish artist Zeyno Pekunlu. By assembling clips from youtube videos produced by self proclaimed experts about the women’s world, she creates a critical and ironical mosaic of the misogynistic rhetoric which still characterizes our society.
Living a beautiful life, produced by the German artist Corinna Schnitt, reflects on the consumerist models and the principles imposed by the contemporary society by showing a middle aged married couple talking in an artificial and stereotypical way about their successful life.
Another appealing aspect of viennacontemporary is related to the rich series of talks held by international collectors, curators, gallerists and art historians. This open confrontation between different points of view and experiences allows a challenging investigation about specific aspects of the contemporary art world.
Ilaria Goglia (Italy, 1982) is an art historian and emerging curator based in Rome and has been working in both institutional and independent art spaces, in Italy and in Europe. She collaborated, as assistant curator, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Antwerp (MHKA), and at PILOTHENKUECHE, an international residency program in Leipzig, Germany. For three years she has been a part of the educational department of National Museum for Art of XXI century (MAXXI), which designs activities to involve different targets of people in the critical understanding of contemporary art. She recently became part of Spazio Y team, an independent art space run by an artists’ collective in Rome.
Navigating through Sarah Pichlkostner’s solo showcase, “Fly me to the moon” is a metaphoric comparison to the visitor experience of viennacontemporary. Galerie Hubert Winter’s booth houses two fictional characters, KUY and KAY imagined by the artist to occupy this transitional space, a setting created to depict a waiting area before a trip to the moon.
The collection of 5 minimalist sculptures are assembled with a sense of stillness that paths an experiential reflection upon contemporary technology and realized human interactions. Each structure alternates between floating and stableness comprising of aluminum, glass, and silver nitrate accented by white stoned aisles that bring to mind a celestial landscape, or a metaphysical environment as the artist intends. One sculpture employs indecipherable sounds of a dialogue and another a human sized shattered glass sheet, together eluding to blurred realities and obscure perceptions.
After encountering the physicality of this sculptural setup, with further investigation it is learned that the audible dialogue and water flow are activated by a mobile app, identified by the artist as a character that personally dictated the process to create the scene. Another dialogue between the viewer and objects exists within the connectivity between humanity, technology, and nature. Sarah Pichlkostner constructs an abstract but transcendent oasis for unconfined introspection. With the use of material, sound, language, motion, stillness, elemental components through physical and imagined space(s); a balancing projection of transitional existence evokes parallels between metaphysical and tangible journeys.
Contemporary art that employs use of new media and aestheticism can elevate a sense of being and mundane experiences as in this world actualized by Sarah Pichlkostner. Other solo exhibitions by young artists born or educated in Austria are featured in ZONE1 of viennacontemporary; these displays focus on but are not limited to contemporary art that uses emerging technologies in conversation with societal concerns and human experiences. The support of the Austrian Federal Chancellery allows for a curated exploration through the Austrian arts scene while increasing exposure to international markets and publics.
Ilethia Sharp (USA, 1989) is a communications specialist, arts writer, and curator with curatorial projects that exhibit sculpture, installation, architecture, new media, and technology-art. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications and Media Arts from Pace University in New York City with a minor in Contemporary Art History and completed a Study Abroad program at the University of Technology Sydney in Australia. She has independently curated “pop-up” or temporary site-specific contemporary art exhibitions that re-imagine spaces and architecture. As a curator she is interested in genre-bending, conceptual, contemporary art that heightens cultural awareness, encourages societal progression with art historical narratives.
Lucia Galvez Chico
I must start by saying how hard it was for me to chose a specific concept, a gallery, an artist, or a topic within viennacontemporary for this piece. This is, because of the many interesting aspects that the fair had to offer, which made it unique and different to any other fair that I have previously attended. Given the geographically inclined target that it has, it was all very new to me. I had not been this close to the works of Austrian and Eastern European artists, especially young, emerging ones.
Zone 1, curated by Marlies Wirth, was composed of a selection of under 40 year old artists who have worked or are originally from Austria. This gave young artists the opportunity to present a solo booth at the fair. Although there were very interesting proposals nearby, the work of Austrian born artist Peter Jellitsch definitely impressed me the most at a first glance. Even more, when I had the chance to speak to him personally about his work.
When I see Peter’s work from far away, I see this abstract, stimulating painting. This not only because my sight is not very good from far away, but because there is a certain kind of movement and shapes and technique that you can notice that is very complex. In a way, it disturbs and attracts you at the same time. But this is precisely what Peter Jellitsch wants to convey. His works apply media language back to contemporary art, but not in an aesthetically obvious way like most artists who are drawn to this discourse.
Peter Jellitsch’s works were exhibited in Crone Gallery and in Galerie Clemens Gunzer, where the whole booth was dedicated and carefully curated, almost as a site specific installation. The black and white painted walls converged perfectly into any of the drawings, that were also, in black and white. “Black is number 1, white is 0”, meaning that black is the only color he actually works with.
His “Data Drawings” are a collection of drawings that oscillate from analog, to digital, to his hand. Jellitsch is interested in the invisible networks and data that surrounds us in our daily life. These constant data streams and flow of information that is everywhere, and that evidently defines what is indispensable for our current society: “This is the essence of the internet.”
By using an internet speed test application, he monitors and records the connection of a specific place, time and date. These numbers are then transformed in the form of a 3D topographical model, which he could automatically print out for it to be exact, but he instead decides to draw for himself.
We talked about his intensive way of working, having to concentrate for weeks, and the act of repeating movements and re-drawing these “mountains” of pure data, over and over again. This inevitably creates an actual memory in the hand, like a memory stick. Peter ended his explanation saying, “in a way, I am becoming the machine”, which is quite accurate, ironic, and compliments his interesting discourse.
Lucia Galvez Chico (Mexico, 1994) recently graduated with a degree in Cultural and Social Entrepreneurship. For most of her professional experience, she has worked in different areas of the Mexican contemporary art scene. She has been involved with Gallery Weekend Mexico, Zona Maco Contemporary Art Fair, The University Museum of Contemporary Art (MUAC), Karen Huber Gallery, and most recently, as a local editor for My Art Guides Mexico City. Galvez Chico is also interested in architecture, and enjoys writing very much.
”I think, therefore I am” declared René Descartes in the 17th Century questioning existence. More than 400 years later the South-Korean poet Yi Won came out with a contemporary version suggesting: “I click, therefore I am”. Being a child of the So-Me generation, I must confess, that all the art fairs I’ve visited so far, has taken place either through the lens of my smartphone camera or through the lens of other people’s Instagram world. Vienna Contemporary was different. Leaving my device behind (ironically in the charger due to lack of battery) provided me the opportunity to experience the fair in a completely new way of meeting exhibitors and looking at the art with my eyes and ears open for paying attention to where I was, rather than where I could have been, which is in my opinion often the case when living through the screen as we tend to do anno 2017.
Opposing the clicking strategy (shoot, hashtag, post – move on, repeat), this time I decided to engage intensely with only very few booths.
One of them was the Krinzinger Gallery, which is an obvious but all-time favorite of mine, always showing world class art. But what I like the most is their backroom salon display. The intimate presentation allows for everyone, who takes their time and dare to step inside, to discover a hidden treasure on their own. This year it was undoubtedly the little grey box by Vienna based Bernd Oppl, titled: “In the shine of the cosmic microwave background” that caught my attention.
At first glance you only see the minimalistic, geometrically shaped rectangle sculpture installed on the wall, but if you move closer, stand on your toes, move your neck forward and look into the room, a whole world unfolds. Oppl’s tiny architectural model is inviting the beholder inside, but it demands a certain presence and attention, that can’t be experienced from a distance. Talking to the artist about his work I learned that the motif of the installation (a 3D print) is an analogue black and white photography of a hotel room in Mexico where he lived for 10 days in 2012 during an exhibition. The hotel room stands as a temporary home, a transition place where one finds himself in between locations, but also as a lonely and melancholic space, enhanced by the darkness and lack of personal items. The only connection to the outside world is the dying medium, the television, here shining white noise searching for channels, filling up the room as a double metaphor of movement in time; at one hand the cinematographic aspect of the art history is on stake, at the other hand a much older story is being told: as mentioned explicitly in the title, the CMB reminding us of the beginning of all times, as eco-philosopher Timothy Morton popularly mentions in his Hyperobjects: “I turn on the TV and see snow. A sliver of snow is a trace of the Cosmic Microwave Background left over from the Big Bang.”
In 1982 the Danish poet Inger Christensen writes: “I think, therefore I am part of the labyrinth.” I don’t know what it is, that makes us, but I do know that being present with this particular piece of art in the absence of my usual connection to the world, made me feel very much alive. However, if you look closely enough inside the hotel room, you will see a smartphone lying on the bed and who knows where the labyrinth begins and ends…
In the back of the room we see an open door providing further light to the room, which made me step away from the box to find out if the light came from outside, from the room I was in, booth C20, Marx Halle, but only to realize that it wasn’t the case. The light from the open door in the hotel room was artificially constructed and contained inside the box, either as a riddle of the non-space or perhaps as a reference to the illumination from the world of ideas above the cave in the allegory of Plato…
Malou Solfjeld (Denmark, 1991) studied Art History at Copenhagen University and Neuroaesthetics at Bergen University. She is currently working at the Center of Contemporary Art, Mallorca, focusing on the Artist-in-Residence program and International PR. Prior experience in the art world counts museum jobs in Denmark and PR-assistance for VOLTA art fairs in Basel and NYC. Solfjeld has a professional and personal interest in philosophy, neuroscience and psychology on phenomenological being in relation to contemporary art. Solfjeld is currently working on a project with the title: “Perception of Reality – On animation and animism, from cave paintings to virtual reality”.
I am blown away by the architectural beauty and artistic richness of Vienna, which always seems to appear at the most wonderfully unexpected times. When I first arrived two Sundays ago my fruitless search for a supermarket instead led me to Belvedere Castle.
viennacontemporary continued to provide unforeseen moments that made for a unique art fair experience. I was taken aback when witnessing a man casually pick up and eat one of the small colourful cubes sitting atop a Perspex shelf at the das weisse haus booth. Hanakam & Schuller’s edible Petit Aura Punschkrapfen cakes created a surprising, yet delightful moment of literal art consumption. The 400 pieces, complete with edition cards signed by the artists, were commissioned in anticipation for the ten-year anniversary of das weisse haus in late November. Their colourful, porcelain-like exterior and display at an art fair was counter to enticing the act of touching, let alone eating. Destructive, yet playful, these editions provide a refreshing comment on traditional artistic standards of display and value creation, especially when placed within an inherently money-driven context. They further thwart the ability to commoditise ephemeral artworks by complicating the very definition of art itself, simultaneously taking on the identity of cake and artwork.
Before first visiting viennacontemporary we went to Katrin Hornek’s studio where she discussed her interest in making sculptures from gallstones and other objects created by the body. Hanakam & Schuller’s project provided an interesting contrast to Hornek’s approach, using the body as a site of artwork destruction rather than production, reversely internalising the external. It was this moment of eating a Petit Aura that its transience as Punschkrapfen was revealed, only the edition card remaining as evidence of its artistic existence. Through a simple celebratory gesture Hanakam & Schuller created a deliciously memorable experience, making up for the work’s lack of physical permanence with plenty of conceptual food for thought.
Michaela Bear (Australia, 1993) is an emerging arts practitioner. Her recent endeavors include a research-focused Curatorial Bursary at the University of Queensland Art Museum, working as the Curatorial Assistant/Assistant Editor for the inaugural Honolulu Biennial in Hawaiʻi and writing exhibition reviews for an online magazine based in London. She is especially interested in the use of architectural and geographical space as a curatorial mediator, as well as examining art as a tool for establishing and examining cultural diversity. Bear completed her Honours in Art History at the University of Queensland, Australia in 2016.
viennacontemporary had plenty things to offer even to an engaged viewer. The visitors could not only buy pieces by prominent artists, meet famous collectors and gallerists but also investigate both Viennese and world contemporary art scene. While some galleries showed established artists, others promoted upcoming young generation.
The space of the fair was divided into several zones – gallery presentations, solo shows by Austrian artists, the Solo & Sculpture exhibitions zone and special project Focus, which this year was dedicated to Hungarian neo-avant-garde art of the 1970s. There were also Cinema, a family zone and a space for public talks and discussions.
As female practices are one of the key points of my professional interest, it was interesting for me to find out that this year the amount of female art was equal to male. Moreover, some galleries focused on female artists only. Thus, Konzett gallery presented already classical works of the 1970s by such established female artists as Rebecca Horn, Gina Pane, Carolee Schneeman, Yayoi Kusama, Rita Nowak together with a later installation by Claudia Marzendorfer and photos by Rita Nowak.
Furthermore, I would like to admit the number of young art at the fair. Some of the galleries, such as Rod Barton (London) exhibited only upcoming artists thereby introducing them to the world art scene. It was also a pleasure for me to see the performance by Christian Falsnaes, which together with videos from Cinema zone and diverse public program made the fair vibrant and open.
Oleksandra Poliushkina (Ukraine, 1989) is an art historian, emerging curator based in Kiev, Ukraine. She collaborated with PinchukArtCentre in Kiev, Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, Italy and Manifesta 10 in St.Petersburg, Russia.
Pedro Henrique de Melo
Having had the privilege of visiting the fair´s 2016 edition, my first impression of this year´s viennacontemporary was of a more mature and coherent art fair. Commercially, galleries seem to have felt more at ease in presenting cutting-edge, provocative works. Institutionally, Kate Sutton’s Talks, together with the Focus:Hungary sector, displayed viennacontemporary’s capacity to foment relevant discussions around current issues while reaffirming its role as the bridge between Eastern and Western European art.
In considering the exhibitors booths, two galleries with very different approaches are worth mentioning. Galerie Lisa Kandlhofer exceeded expectations by betting on diversity a year after winning the Austrian Gallery Prize of the Vienna Chamber of Commerce with a solo booth. Refusing to rest on past laurels – last year’s prized decision to focus solely on the works by artist Frauke Dannert – this year’s booth saw a pluralistic balance between the works by artists Alina Kunitsyna, Karl Karner and the New Media highlight Malte Burns, achieved through the gallery´s trademark daring approach.
On the other side of the spectrum, a more discreet yet equally interesting booth was occupied by gallery Rod Barton from London. In turbulent “Brexit” times, the young eponymous gallerist dared to take on the mission of becoming the launching pad for upcoming British talents, bringing to the fair quality works at very competitive prices – special attention should be given to objet trouvé evocative Samuel Adams.
As plural as the participating galleries, so were the talks organized by curator Kate Sutton. Titled “Talks:Borderline”, a fitting denomination under which to foster discussions about institutional resilience vis-à-vis the new rules of the art market, the conversations brought heavy-weights and pioneers to the discussion. Names such as Boris Ondreicka (TBA21) and Aaron Cezar (Delfina Foundation) were among those who discussed the roles of institutions and collectors in a much more dynamic, global and complex art world.
Claiming its leading role as the bridge between the Eastern and Western European art markets, vienncontemporary has brought back its project Focus this year. After a very interesting dialogue with countries from the Ex-Yugoslavian block and Albania during its 2016 edition, the choice of focusing on Hungary this time was even bolder and more assertive. It is impossible to disconnect the showing of works created during a Cold War Era Hungary from the political situation the country finds itself in currently. Commendable for its courage, the focus on Hungary – anticipated somewhat by the Endre Tót retrospective curated by Amir Shariat – brought an intellectual and political robustness to this year´s fair.
In sum, my overall impression of vienncontemporary 2017 was of a more mature, dynamic and coherent fair, one which has developed all aspects necessary to continuously captivate more collectors, curators and art aficionados for years to come. I, personally, look forward to what 2018 will bring.
Pedro Henrique de Melo, MAIS (Brazil, 1990) is a curator and artist manager based in Vienna, Austria. He obtained his Master´s degree at the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna and has since worked at a commercial gallery and participated in art fairs in Europe and further abroad. Among other curatorial projects, he recently developed the exhibition “Goliath” at frei_raum Q21 exhibition space in MuseumsQuartier, Vienna, Austria in 2017. de Melo has also worked as the Project Manager at the artist representation firm Vera Steinkellner GmbH since October last year.
The rainy season of the mid September might not make Vienna the best place to travel, but it certain does not effect the art scene. The annual art feast viennacontemporary, it seems, has the magic to bring the city alive. If you are just starting to know about Vienna’s contemporary art scene, this young vibrant art fair can definitely provide a panoramic landscape, from established to newly raised. Galerie Martin Janda and Galerie Krinzinger always sustain the high level in the art world, but there was also younger galleries like Vin Vin, who strongly focus on emerging practices.
Apparently, local art scenes never were the only focus of viennacontemporary, but Central and Eastern Europe, and an even broader international context. Over 110 galleries from 27 countries have been invited to exhibit. It is worth to mention that the liberal programe and special presentations provided a unique visiting experience and evolved into a multilayered discussion between local and global, history and present.
Berlin based curator, publisher and lecturer Olaf Stüber presented a series of wonderful artist film selection under the title of My Little Happiness to search for the little moments of happiness from different ages and cultural background; ZONE1 gathered 10 talented emerging artists who were born or educated in Austria with both domestic and international vision. This year’s Focus relives the history of the Hungarian Neo-avant-garde movement of the 1960s and 1970s, curated by József Mélyi.
Tan Yue (China, 1989) is an associate curator of Guangdong Times Museum. She has been worked closely with the curatorial team for exhibition planning, research and project development. Her focal interests include contemporary art in the public realm and socially engaged art. Last year she started a brand new process orientated project series for Times Museum called Banyan Commune. The program is based on continued dialogue, understanding, and communication about the local community, whilst also questioning the role of the art institution within a greater social context.
Victoria Vargas Downing
“Barbie” is a video of the Chilean born artist Gianfranco Foschino as a part of the cinema selection,“My Own Little Happiness” curated by Olaf Stüber, addressing the topic of ‘happiness’ within the viennacontemporary art fair.
The video starts with an ochre brown scene of a motionless old wood house, during a few seconds we only face the almost imperceptible passage of time resembling photography, until a brunette black haired girl enters into the frame evidencing the moving image.
She is wearing a white shirt and jeans skirt, we see her playing with a blonde doll in the solitude of the landscape, no one is around until the moment that a black dog arrives into the ochre scene along with the girl who enters the brown house.
Within the frame of the art fair, Foschino’s work raises more questions and thoughts. Firstly and differently from the overstimulation of the bright colours and sounds inside of the art fair, this work requires us to stop, allowing us to contemplate details inside of the frame as subtle movements of the wind or little light sparks of insects. It offers a pause to really observe the artwork at the time it is in front of us.
In addition, the precariousness of the house and the condition of the landscape differs from the fair and European context, how many brunette girls do we see represented in the art fair? How many of them are physically present in the video?
Considering this, between the girl, the Barbie and the fair we can find a kind of postcolonial inverted play as the brunette girl plays with the blonde doll. Who will follow the ‘play’? Who will acquire the video to ‘play it’ and what is his/her reality?
And finally, how is this speaking to us about happiness? The video reminds us of the ‘happiness’ simple things bring, rather than to the environment of commodification and financial speculation present in the art fair. Do we need big houses full of artworks in order to reach happiness? Or is it in the beauty and joy of little things that this feeling is constituted?
Victoria Vargas Downing (Chile, 1988) is an art historian and heritage researcher. She studied Theory and History of Arts at the University of Chile and holds a Diploma in Curating. Victoria has worked as a Teacher Assistant and Research Assistant in different projects and with different art organisations in Chile (museums, galleries and non-profit organizations). She recently finished her MA in Arts Management and Heritages studies at Leeds University, UK, where she also co-curated the exhibition “Imtiaz Dharker: sense of line” and is involved in the restoration of a Chilean mural. Her research is based on the approximations between contemporary art and alternatives heritages discourses.
BLOCKFREI is an independent cultural organization based in Vienna. It was established in 2013 and it embodies the concept of mobility for artists and cultural professionals, strongly believing that multicultural projects are of the highest importance and inevitability part of the global cultural and geopolitical sphere.
Since its beginnings BLOCKFREI has been running an annual curators-in-residence program for emerging international curators Curators’ Agenda.
The program maps the focal points of the Viennese contemporary art scene providing a network so that the participating curators can get to know about the Viennese scene in more depth and in the future, potentially, collaborate with its creators. The schedule consists of studio visits, meetings with curators and cultural educators, lectures, workshops, which enable the curators to learn about curatorial practices from both freelance and institutionally engaged curators as well as to connect with artists and other relevant key players of the Viennese contemporary art scene.
The Curators’ Agenda participants will organise a mutual group exhibition in a partnership with University of Applied Arts Vienna, with opening scheduled for 24 October 2017 at Krinzinger Projekte.
For more information please visit: http://blockfrei.org/curators-agenda-vienna-2017/