Nina Prader brings you her impressions of the viennacontemporary art fair

 

Last week, you read her account of how Austrian artists represented at the art berlin contemporary fair. Back to Vienna now for:

Part II: Generating Now, Contemporary is Classic

 

As it is in Berlin, September in Vienna  offers an explosion of major art events. Setting the scene are both Parallel Vienna, the city’s largest off-scene art fair, and viennacontemporary, its biggest and most established one.  Held in quite different settings, each paints separate but intersecting pictures, catering to contrasting audiences and collectors.

Viennacontemporary mirrors many of the galleries and artists found at art berlin contemporary (abc). However, as a whole the fair seems conventionally classic with some contemporary highlights  but on a grander scale.

Feast your eyes on
Where abc thrilled with cool, compact understatement, viennacontemporary impresses with chi-chi pomp. Its visitors clink their flutes of Champagne or Crémant and on the menu Do. & Co. caters prawns and asparagus. This year’s sponsorship partners included elite car dealers, realtors, brokers, and liquor labels.

Photo ©viennacontemporary/ A. Murashkin
Photo ©viennacontemporary/ A. Murashkin

 

A red-carpeted hallway ushered the viewer into the vast glass-ceilinged Marxhalle – an ironic location given that the 19th-century structure was once Vienna’s central livestock market. For viennacontemporary, its 20,000 square meters display art from 112 galleries and 28 countries. A conceptual a-to-z guide helped visitors navigate the wide range of art on display from East to West. A framework of solo exhibitions of young Austrian artists, curated by 21er Haus’s Severin Dünser*, was augmented by Solo Expanded, curated by Abaseh Mirvali and nuanced with Nordic highlights and talks by artists, collectors, and gallerists. Art institutions like the Kunsthallen in Vienna and Krems were present. Guided tours, an interactive kiddie corner and art-book publisher stands encouraged one’s eyes, mind, and feet to wander —if not throb.

A game-plan for focal points
Unlike their assertive strategy on the road at abc, Viennese galleries played with a familiar lineup at their home-game –no scandalous references, but clever touches nonetheless. At the Marxhalle, it was harder to stand out among the multitude of classic white-cube booths.

Viennese dealers know that new media is harder to sell and played it safe, exhibiting predominantly sculpture and 2-D. A matter of convenience, it is a well-known fact that buyers prefer take-out objects to projections beamed on their walls, though cinema was also on the itinerary this year. Even Austrian conceptual sculptor Heimo Zobernig showcased a painting. New York’s Postmasters gallery did provide the contemporary “Post-Internet” art fix – Ryder Ripps commodifies the ephemeral meme Pepe the Frog by immortally enshrining it in in solid 18-carat gold.

 

Out-of-towners like the sleek Berlin-based gallery Dittrich & Schlechtriem displayed their reservoir of native artists, imparting a chic Berlin breeze. Simon Mullan’s monumental tile-work, A Popularis (Monument for the Common), displayed at abc, has morphed into wall reliefs here.

Swiss artist Julian Charrière’s* On the Sidewalks reminds of an abstract back-bone and Slovakian Andrej Dubravsky’s Old tractor, young farmers oozes of youth-in-turmoil in algae tones.

 

Support systems
Boasting itself as a cultural landmark, viennacontemporary is less about “who we are” but “what we have to give.” This year’s focus on ex-Yugoslavian and Albanian spaces and artists proves this but also sheds light on battles for recognition and visibility. There’s an edgier motor powering these Balkan artists. However, East and West support each other, recognizing their relations, both united and divided. According to Serbian artist Slobodan Stosic, “Old and young artists are exhibited in this section but on the market they are on the same level.” His drawings depict people biting their hands. Such an implicit hyper-futility is exemplified in the work of millennial newcomer, Slavica Obradovic, too. A cast pastel blue, headless female body kneels, morphs into a drip, dangling into a rainbow-colored kiddie pool.

 

Overall, gallerists express gratitude for the viennacontemporary showcase, which receives more international accretion and exposure with every year. Galleries know they will sell here. Christine Koenig Galerie says, “Viennacontemporary keeps getting better and higher in quality. The program is better. The V.I.P. program is great.” This year, they show a bold anarchist wallpaper by Dan Perjovschi; framed works by other artists hang on top. Koenig also represents young art at Parallel, held at the grungy Alte Post, giving them street cred and subsidizing the off-scene market.

Galerie Reinthaler, Ulrike Königshofer, winner Artproof Photography grant 2016 (Photo:© viennacontemporary / A. Murashkin)
Galerie Reinthaler’s Ulrike Königshofer, winner Artproof Photography grant 2016 (Photo:© viennacontemporary / A. Murashkin)

There were also kudos and cash prizes (funded by, for example, the WKO Wien, the local chamber of commerce) to be won for an attractive gallery set-up. Also, Ulrike Koenigshofer, represented by by Galerie Reinthaler, won Artproof’s photography stipend*. Changing tepid 2-D temperatures, she exposes photo-paper to both moonlight, creating a scientific color scale, and sunlight – using a wooden DIY camera obscura she burns focal points charting the sun’s position.

Michael E. Smith's pyramid of onesies
Michael E. Smith’s pyramid of onesies

Contemporary and traditional artworks by young and old artists share the floor, this city, the market, and the zeitgeist. Detroit-based artist Michael E. Smith, represented by Berlin-based gallery KOW, created a pyramid of baby onesies and an industrial hose, recalling a coiled umbilical chord. On one hand, he references broken American dreams. On the other, the work possibly illustrates noted author, art critic, and theorist Diedrich Diederichsen’s* conceptual design on heritage: Make your own point of origin, created for curated by_vienna*, a Viennese gallery tribute to the art of curators. No longer the revolutionary oedipal battle of previous generations, artists, galleries, and institutions now coexist and are in referential conversation.

While many of the same artists and galleries are seen at the Parallel, abc, and viennacontemporary, the latter is clearly the breadwinner.


 

* Editor’s note: The originally posted version of this article contained some errors which have been scrubbed in the current version, namely:

Ulrike Koenigshofer , not Galerie Reinthaler which represents her, won Artproof’s photography stipend;
– Severin Dünser (not “Denser”) ;
– Diedrich Diederichsen (not “Diederichson”) ;
– Julian Charrière is originally from Switzerland, not Austria;
– curated by_vienna (not Curated-by).

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Nina Prader is an artist and arts and culture writer who lives and works in Vienna and Berlin and has been with Metropole from the start.