CURATORS’ AGENDA CHOICES AT VIENNACONTEMPORARY 2018
From 27th till 30th of September 2018, the international art fair – viennacontemporary took place at Marx Halle in Vienna.
This year’s Curators’ Agenda program participants have written a brief overview of the fair and its program.
Jo Ferly (Guadeloupe, French Caribbean, 1970)
Viennacontemporary 2018: all about selling art?
If you are used to the major art fairs such as Frieze (London); Volta (New York) or FIAC (Paris), one may wonder slightly, in what respects could viennacontemporary bring anything new to one’s knowledge of contemporary art fairs.
“A fair is (after all!) just a fair”! one may say. And Christina Steinbrecher-Pfand, acting artistic director of this 2018 edition, was reminding us, that a fair is “just about selling empty booths to galleries”. However, once one has overcome the downside of any art fair – which lies in having to see a lot of artworks in a very short amount of time (usually in half a day and very often until your feet can no longer take you any step further) – you come to notice and get some understanding about the very features that each fairs has to offer.
With viennacontemporary, for a start, one was able to step away from the very arty-farty scenery that each art fairs seems to come up with, worldwide. Of course, we know too well that contemporary art IS elitist: only those who have the key to read the artworks are able to connect with it – or pretend to, which is also an option – not to mention the few who can afford it. For another reminder from the director is that, a fair is nothing about BUT to buy art: if you are going to the fair, make sure that you buy at least a piece! Those who slightly thought that they could refresh on the newest art scene get the message! In other words: don’t mix fairs for art exhibitions!
Held at the Marx Halle in Karl-Farkas-Gasse, the fair reassured any new comers by its accessibility in terms of making you feel welcome. Although it is an art market, you do not feel the pressure of the art dealers, as some more prestigious fairs do. You do not feel put off by just being yourself, and not wearing the newest designers’ clothes, which in some ways is part of the game, as we all know. The 2018 edition of viennacontemporary took place from 26th to the 30th September. Entering the hall on a red carpet, you got to walk through a sound piece, which set up the tone of this ephemeral event. Entering the world of creativity, where anyone is (or feels) privileged, whether you are a poor artist, hoping to get some gallery attention, or an art professional – is often an interesting experience, especially if you like observing what is on the walls, on the floor, and in the aisles.
On a “quiet” day, that is to say over lunch time, one was able to chat with all the gallery people, when visiting their space. It feels like here, art dealers are are not too busy and are able to do more than addressing you with a smile and handing you the price list over! One could therefore say that viennacontemporary, is a much down-to-earth fair, not putting you off, if you feel like willing to get your first experience at buying – or just viewing – the art world for the very first time. Entry fees and refreshment drinks are likewise affordable and will not cost you a mortgage! Which brings us to wonder then, what could then distinguish an art fair in Vienna from another… say, in London, then (apart from the currency used, of course, to trade)?
For another aspect of a fair is also to give some flavour of the art-which-is-happening-now in a specific country, or region. In that respect, viennacontemporary plays its role in covering an interesting palette of the productions of the Balkans and beyond. For those already connected with the Viennese art scene from the odd ones galleries operating on the international scene -such as Thaddaeus Ropac who represents Nick Oberthaler, Erwin Wurm, or the Krinzinger gallery presenting Martin Walde among others-, it is rather pleasant to be presented with a wider range of artists pieces, so as to get a deeper sense of what the art is about, in this part of the world.
To further emphasize on this aspect, a nice selection of conferences, which are all about commercial purposes (therefore, one might wonder if the director’s words are that relevant!) are scheduled for those who are interested to know more about a specific topic. This year, a focus on Armenia led to rather large booth presenting some artists, as well as a talk by curator Ruben Arevshatyan entitled Artistic practices and transient states. It summarised in a comprehensive way, the situation of Armenia since the post-Soviet independent nations and the Velvet Revolution’s era. As market is all about reaching a consensus as to what is bankable or not today, art fairs – or rather galleries – are usually not eager to take risks. Therefore visitors – and mainly art professionals – were reassured by big international artists’ names, such as Cameroonian artist Barthélémy Toguo, represented by Mario Mauroner’s gallery. But the fair’s interesting input lies in that it also presented lesser-known artists in another dedicated space: Zone 1. A promotion tool, that other international fairs should reuse. This initiative is by no means a challenging one, and is crucial for those who are after investing in the next generation of contemporary artist.
Sania Galundia (India, 1991)
Presenting 118 galleries, about one third of which are from Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, Vienna Contemporary was mainly dominated by paintings, photographs, and sculptures, with a few video works, interactive installations and performance pieces. Many of the artistic preoccupations foregrounded spatial and geometric explorations, environmental concerns, identity politics, and personal and societal struggles.
Apart from the regular selection of galleries, the fair’s curatorial vision segregated parts of the display into special categories – Zone 1 presented artists aged under 40 who are born, educated or living and working in Austria. The focus was the inspiration from the quotidian and conditions affecting humans. This is an interesting approach in affording visibility to a young generation of artistic expressions that is inspired from similar lived experiences.
Overseen by the curatorial advisor Nadim Samman, the Explorations section showcased curated booth presentations by featured galleries. The representation here was from across Europe and consciously sought to bridge the gap between emerging and established artists. The eerie, atmospheric vibe of Maen Florin’s lucid, macabre human like heads juxtaposed with Michael Dans’ prints of flowers in vases at the Nadja Vilenne Galerie instantly drew me in. The curious ceramic sculptures never meet the eye but seem to be possessed in an unfamiliar state.
The Nadikhuno muzemos/ The Invisible Museum organized by Tranzit.sk in collaboration with ERSTE Foundation and initiated by the artist Oto Hudec was an insightful representation of the history and contemporary reality of the Roma community. It also brings to focus the lack of a coherent voice and cultural platform that represents Roma history. Research based exhibition format based on collaborations with the community and artistic interventions shows the way forward towards resolution of identity conundrums.
One of the most striking works was from the Art Collection Deutsche Telekom that focuses on Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. From a distance, Sanja Ivekovic’s work titled Women’s House (Sunglasses) seems like a fashion photo shoot or an ad campaign for designer sunglasses with models donning oversized sunglasses. A closer look reveals the embedded text, which reads the background and struggle of women from a shelter where the residents empower each other to recover from a shared history of abusive experiences. The series of video works represented by Gallerie Krinzinger featuring Marina Abramovic, Hans Op de Beeck, Kader Attia, and Sudasrhan Shetty among others was captivating.
Vienna Contemporary provided a platform to view a sizeable variety of artistic voices and curatorial concerns from across Europe with a conscious effort towards promoting emerging talent. However, a dedicated vision to include more installations and video works would have made the fair more representative of the diverse range of contemporary mediums. It was an intriguing insight into the prevalent art practices and market trends but I would not describe the works on view as cutting edge or experimental.
John Kenneth Paranda (UK/Philippines, 1988)
Extremely Loud & Almost Visible:
A Review of the Invisible Museum at the Vienna Contemporary 2018
There are exhibitions that arrive fully formed with fresh curatorial nuancing satisfying a niche audience of specialists and art snobs and then you have a booth at the viennacontemporary 2018 called Invisible Museum, a curated show to fill an obvious void of trying to veer away from the usual transactions that happens in the homogeneous commercial world of art. Organised by transit.sk and artist Oto Hudec with Judit Angel the project dreams of a museum for the much maligned Roma culture and dispel the stereotype that pervades the utterance of a word that usually creates an imagery of petty crimes, distrust, and magic hippy skirts.
The exhibition tackles the “Gypsy” question by showcasing photographs from Emilia Rigová where she paints herself in black with traditional Roma clothing. Hanged in the most visible wall of the booth it strikes one to wonder how overtly stylised and staged the two images arrives looking like a magazine spread for a luxury clothing brand. Maybe the urbane playfulness of the photograph is a stilted attempt to overcompensate for the arbitrariness of colour stereotyping but the lack of recognisable political heft and gravitas is disappointing. The image is pretty but the intentions does not translate. And maybe sometimes pretty is more than enough.
Robert Gabris cooper engravings takes another section of the booth where he presents drawings that attempts to tackles trauma and historical injustices in relation to the high dropout rates of Roma children in schools. Though it reads politically motivated in concept and in paper the drawings manage to be both repetitive, uninspired and unfocused.
While, Marcela Hadová presents documentation of a Roma women’s club collaboratively creating a mural in public space in a village named Rankovče in Eastern Slovakia. The documentation paints an imagery of knowledge transfer of skills and colourful ways of expressions, and solidarity. Though, one should be skeptical of works that presents a form of altruism and community engaged activism since the video and neither the actual mural on the display really tells us the legacy and the afterlife of the Roma women’s gathering.
Finally in the last section of the curated booth, Oto Hudec weaves a didactic accounting of Roma history and its oppression as a race that has been historically invisible in Central European politics. Installing wooden shelf brackets on the wall Hudec, simulates a type of display usually seen in ethnographic museums and museums of natural history with drunk text heavy information that obviously needed to be edited. Along the text on the wall, he situates images of typical Roma house and anthropology with accompanying display either with clay lego-like shapes or cut-out kid like cutesy horses and landscape images of houses, portraits and other paraphernalia.
In the middle of the room is a red house like structure that presents a video documentation of the Karavan community project by Daniela Krajčová and Oto Hudec where one can reflect on the importance of the proposition to create a living museum for the Roma culture.
Unlike Jews, Roma gypsies have had no known ancestral land to return to. And though their language is somewhat related to Hindi, their territorial origins are foggy. I resonate to the cause and the bold intention of the exhibition to imagine a repository of an under represented culture is praise-worthy but like raw milk, I can’t shake the lack of homogenisation, the concentrated small batch of organic presentation felt somewhat contrived. The exhibition seems transparent and featureless in metaphor failing to catch the light off the sleek edges and a full spectrum of unexpected colour and curatorial nuancing. Invisible Museum may represent a declaration of freedom and its essential appeal is a good starting point so much as where ancient music anticipates its digital future but it doesn’t necessarily result in a memorable show.
Sayori Radda (Austria/UK, 1992)
A Review of Anna Nova Gallery
Amongst the immense conglomeration of diverse emerging and established galleries, St.Petersburg-based contemporary art gallery Anna Nova, stood out as particularly striking. Falling under one of the leading contemporary art galleries in Russia, the space represents a wide array of practices ranging from photography, video and installation to painting and sculpture. Large-scale and complex installations prove to be a distinguishing feature of the gallery.
This year Anna Nova presents new works by two contemporary artists: Aljoscha, a Ukrainian artist based in Düsseldorf, who’s work explores what the artist coined “bioism” (the boundaries between art and biology) and Russian artist Egor Kraft, based in Moscow, Vienna and Berlin. Kraft’s works deals with the possibilities of artificial intelligence through the reconstruction of historic sculptures as well as friezes. The gallery divided their allotted space into two sections, one dedicated to Aljoscha, the other to Kraft. This move serves to juxtapose the two artists’ works by inviting the viewer to consider their differences and similarities.
On the one hand, Aljoscha’s artistic practice is defined by his meticulously detailed and time consuming hands-on approach (distinctively taking the time to create all glass sculptures by hand), while the process of making in Egor Kraft’s work is always collaborative through a multi-disciplinary approach. On the other hand, both artists’ works explore and engage with pressing notions and questions of the future – a fact that supports Anna Nova Gallery’s curatorial decision to group the two artists’ works together. It is worth noting that the gallery was one of the few exhibitors at the fair to curate their space in this way, setting their exhibited artists’ works into dialogue.
Anna Nova’s booth also stood out for the way in which it visually immersed the viewer. Their exhibited artworks span a range of media, from video installation and sculpture, to painting and drawing, allowing the viewer to be drawn in visually by the sheer diversity of art forms on display. Kraft’s work presented 3-D rendered video works as well as sculptures. As a compliment to the gallery’s immersive range of media, Aljoscha’s towering acrylic and glass sculpture installation extended into the fair’s walkways and up towards the ceilings of the Marx Halle. These were suspended in mid-air above over the booth. In this way Aljoscha’s sculptures create a visually immersive, all encompassing experience for the viewer. Seen from a strategic standpoint, the installation reaches out beyond the perimeters of the gallery’s allotted space, luring in and catching the eyes of prospective buyers. Aljoscha’s acrylic glass extension furthermore proves Anna Nova’s innovative ability to think outside the box by experimenting with the limitations and confinement of the given space.
Nina Rokvic (Australia, 1993)
September means back to business after a summer break for the international market of contemporary art, and Vienna sets the stage with two simultaneous art fairs and an overflowing schedule of countless exhibitions opening.This year’s edition of viennacontemporary certainly hoped to set itself against the big art fair contenders, showcasing the regional potential of Central and Eastern Europe on a global platform. However, I felt that the fair revealed more about the city’s priority concerning contemporary art, and the fundamental issues with the current art fair framework.
The art fair, although the most practical, has never been a very attractive format for galleries and audiences alike. Yet, the dull setting could not be overcome by the atmosphere that filled it. Once the preview is over, time seems to drag on at the fair, with no dedicated performance or video program to keep the enthusiasm running. After visiting the fair’s promising but very brief focus on Armenia, and sitting in at some of the engaging talk programs, viennacontemporary could not escape that it gradually appeared to be a very large painting exhibition (some booths overlapped to the point where it was difficult to distinguish between them). Following days of groomed expectations with an amazing online presence, this was a cruel disappointment for me.
Looking closer, however, there was definitely some striking pieces to be seen, like Simon Wachsmuth and Alpin Arda Bagcik at Zilberman Gallery, and I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of humour I could find, especially in Pawel Ferus’s works at Balzer Project. Zone 1, an area of the fair presenting artists under 40 with close links to Vienna, also showed real potential. Curated by Viennese based curator Victoria Dejaco, this area was a popular destination for those who were interested in a more concentrated focus on contemporary Viennese art. For example, artist Nana Mandl represented by Galerie Lisa Kandlhofer was one that stood out, especially with post internet discourse still only scratching the surface in a commercial setting.
While this small constituent of galleries exhibited works from the previous year, an surprising amount of much older artworks, decades older, were on display. This led me to reflect on the perception of contemporary art in Vienna today, and my sense of a somewhat delayed reception to it. Next to major contemporary art centres like London, New York or Hong Kong, the baroque landmark that Vienna is best known for and its classical masters rather than it’s contemporary ones. As a result, one must conclude that galleries are providing for a demand, and that this demand is not catered to the international focus on contemporary art, but to the local fashion. Yet, viennacontemporary has the chance to allow for further development of Austrian contemporary art, and if the fair is stuck in the past, it will be hard for the city to develop a strong contemporary scene that can compete with other leading European centres such as Berlin and London. Ultimately, with a growing pool of talent in Austria and a recent influx of new galleries, viennacontemporary has a real chance to be a leading event in the contemporary art calendar, but it’s not quite there yet.
Nia Tabakova (Bulgaria, 1983)
Exploring “Explorations” at viennacontemporary 2018
Viennacontmporary is a relatively young fair, founded in 2012 and featuring a refreshing mix of galleries from Austria and Western Europe as well as Central and Eastern Europe. Due to its affordable prices, there can be found galleries from post-soviet countries like Slovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria. It’s manageable size and relaxed atmosphere work in its favor by giving it an advantage point to the hectic vibe of some of the more established art fairs like Frieze in London.
In 2018 viennacontmporary has invited the promising young curator, writer, art adventurer and co-curator of the 1st Antarctic Biennial – Nadim Samman, to recommend a number of booths for the visitor to discover. The so called “Explorations” section comprises galleries from Vienna, Budapest, Liege, Cologne, Warsaw, Antwerp/Knokke and Plovdiv, that were chosen by him after an open call. From the figurative sculptures of the Belgian artist Philip Auguirre, meditating on la condition humaine, to the geometrical works of the Hungarian neo-avant-garde generation, the selection covers a wide variety of themes, media and genres.
One of the highlights from the section are the overly painterly and colorful canvases of the German-born artist Christof Mascher, represented by Philipp von Rosen Galerie, Cologne. At first glance his works bring to mind traditional narrative paintings, but after a closer look the viewer dives into a magical world, reminiscent of Alice’s Wonderland, incorporating landscapes, animals, architectures, boats, human and historical figures – such as Oscar Wilde, who appears as one of the characters sitting in the grass of a hallucinatory rework of Manet’s famous Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe.
In sharp contrast to Mascher’s visual style is Luchezar Boyadjiev’s polyptych Alice’s Hole or the Swamp of Marx-Leninist Aesthetic, 1991, presented by SARIEV Contemporary. In the middle of the installation there is a sketch of the male artist’s birth from a shell, alluding to Bottichelli’s Birth of Venus, tortured by two little angels holding a hammer and a sickle, a pencil and a colour pallet in their hands. On each side of that central panel there are three mirror drawings: of the artist at work, of his partner masturbating and of a pregnant woman carrying twins, fighting with boxing gloves in her womb. The installation humorously refers not only to the difficult life of the (male) artist during communist times in Bulgaria, but also to Biblical themes like the Original Sin, the Immaculate Conception and the Crucifixion.
Luchezar Boyadjiev’s work was purchased at the fair by Art Collection Deutsche Telekom, which in 2018 dedicated its space entirely to female artists in its collection. Favourite work from this section is Homo Bulla, (2015), consisting of three life-size soap sculptures shaped after the body of the Ukrainian artist Maria Kulikovska. This fragile and potentially transient take on classical sculpture can be seen as a monument to the absent female artist figure in the still largely male-dominated business of art.