Vienna Art Week explores the finer points of aesthetics under the theme Seeking Beauty

Vienna is in for an arts talkathon. From November 14-20, the city is holding its twelfth annual Art Week, “comparing Vienna with art centers such as Berlin, Shanghai and Abu Dhabi,” according to the curators. Sponsored by the Dorotheum and featuring a preview of the auction house’s own sale of classical modern and contemporary works, Art Week involves dozens of venues and some 80 working artists, together with a small army of commentators and theoreticians for a vast schedule of talks, lectures, discussions, book presentations, round tables and interviews.

Originally part of the annual Vienna Art Fair (now viennacontemporary), Art Week provides a discourse for the city’s current art scene. Its association with the Art Cluster, a collective of 28 Vienna museums from the Albertina to the Augarten Porzellanmuseum, beefs up the program by including many exhibitions, temporary and permanent, that are already in place.

Spinning a tale

Its own contribution is narrative, and mostly in German. But there are some English-language events: Yale historian George Chauncey will discuss Queer Aesthetics with Director Matti Bunzl (Nov 19, 16:00, Wien Museum);
Japanese artist Yasumasa Morimura talks about his appropriations of old master paintings (Nov 15, 19:00, Sammlung Friedrichshof Stadtraum); and Montenegrin filmmaker Darja Bajagić presents her screen world of “porn stars, serial killers and goths” (Nov 17, 19:00, Mumok).

The Secession is hosting a double opening and discussion of New Yorker Avery Singer’s large-scale mechanical paintings (Nov 17, 15:00) followed by the small-scale paintings of games and exercise by Belgian artist Francis Alÿs (Nov 17, 18:00).

There’ll be three full days on architecture since 1959 (Viennese Architecture Congress, Nov 18-20); a six-hour marathon interview with ORLAN, the French body-art and performance artist who founded the Carnal Art movement; Mark Evans of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, and Germany’s fashionista literature professor Barbara Vincken, will talk (sequentially) about Seeking Beauty (Nov 15, 14:00-20:00, MAK).

A tram ride into the 18th district will take you to the lovely Geymüllerschlössel, these days an outpost of the MAK, where Irish-Israeli duo Clegg & Guttmann will talk about their theatrical settings of Biedermeier objects. (Nov 18, 17:00).

Jasper Sharp will give a guided tour of the KHM’s During the Night exhibition of “disturbing and nightmarish” objects chosen by ceramicist and writer Edmund de Waal (Nov 16, 16:00). At the Künstlerhaus, there’s a discussion (in English and German) of “the ambivalence between the trust in feelings and intuition that we long for, and the critical challenge to that longing” (Nov 15, 18:00) – and no, this event does not appear to have escaped from one of Edmund de Waal’s nightmares.

A little less conversation

Saturday the 19th is Open Studio Day, or rather Afternoon: some 80 artists will open their studios and workshops  to the public from 13:00 to 18:00. Check out photographer Anja Manfredi (7., Westbahnstraße 27-29/6); installation artists Tobias Pilz (3., Kundmanngasse 13/4) and Fabian Seiz (15., Holochergasse 45); or try your hand at soldering with sculptor ConstantinLuser (1., Schönlaterngasse 7A). At 17:00, taxpayers can follow a portion of their money in a guided tour of studios sponsored by the federal government (17., Wattgasse 56-60).

Sunday the 20th is Family Art Day, consisting mainly of guided tours (in German) for children aged 6-12. At the 21er Haus, there’s an afternoon workshop (free, but you need to reserve) for children aged 3-12, with painting, photography and dragon mask making.

The tremendous new field of digital art appears to have been ignored – a serious oversight for a city looking to position itself in the vanguard. But the larger problem is the amputation of this week of words from its natural place alongside the annual Art Fair. As an intellectual complement, it could play an engaging and useful role. As it is, it’s at once too much and too little.

Isn’t it time to get the two parts back together? It’s good to talk, but actions speak louder than words.

Nov 14-20, various locations. viennaartweek.at

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Veronica Buckley’s latest books are the beautifully illustrated New Insights into the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna (Brandstaetter 2016), and Twilight of the Romanovs: A photographic journey across imperial Russia (Thames & Hudson, 2013), both with Philipp Blom. Veronica has also published two historical biographies and has translated dramatic and documentary works for stage, film and radio.