The Startling Rise of Viennacontemporary in the European art Scene

No longer in its infancy, Viennacontemporary asserts itself as the leading art marketplace in Austria

The best art fairs offer a little something for everyone – after all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and each work speaks in a different voice to different people. Fortunately for the city’s culture vultures, Viennacontemporary offers just that, evolving over the past six years from a small and unassuming affair into a European fixture, promoting up-and-coming artists and highlighting lesser-known masters in a vast array of diligently curated talent.

Wiliam Klein. // Courtesy of Ostlicht, Galerie für Fotografie

Valuing universality, over 100 galleries from 26 different countries will be presented, drawing crowds with big names like Viennese actionist Günter Brus, neo-expressionist Herbert Brandl, abstract expressionist Gerhard Richter and world-renowned photographers William Klein and Nobuyoshi Araki.

It’s not merely about stars of the art scene: When asked what most excited her about this year’s lineup, artistic director Christina Steinbrecher-Pfandt spoke of the significance of the Hungarian neo-avant-garde. “The movement has received some exposure in the United Kingdom and the United States, and more and more people are starting to speak about it. So it’s great to continue the conversation with an audience that is ready.”

Curating this special focus is art critic József Mélyi, who lifts the veil on a hitherto underrepresented movement that mirrors Hungary’s tentative first steps toward a more capitalist society. Acknowledging its origins in the 1960s and 1970s as a scene unsanctioned by the communist regime, Mélyi celebrates the versatility shown in the face of the inevitable limitations that filmmakers like Dóra Maurer and textile and graphic artist Attalai Gábor endured: a rare opportunity to re-examine conventional modes of artistic production. First among the group is technical innovator Miklós Erdély, famed for his photo mosaics that challenged conventional art mediums.

Grasping the Ethereal

Although first and foremost a trade fair, Viennacontemporary also encourages art appreciation among the general public, offering an eclectic mixture of talks, tours and presentations in English, as well as extensive children’s activities, with crafting courses held alongside the Künstlerhaus.

A compelling cinema program is shown in parallel, contemplating the theme “My Own Little Happiness,” curated by gallery owner and lecturer Olaf Stüber. “You can find it hiding in little details,” Stüber suggests, “in the trivialities of everyday life and especially in good and close relationships to other people.”

Sculpture also features heavily in this year’s program, leaving Steinbrecher-Pfandt particularly proud of the show curated by Miguel Wandschneider, who will present 10 contemporary sculptors. “He has an excellent eye and after months of work, I’m eager to see it come together.”

Other noteworthy artists this year include Erró, an Icelandic painter and illustrator noted for his surrealism, pop art, comics and science fiction, as well as the Korean sculptor Wook-Jang Cheung, best known for his towering silver sculptures of deer, camels and elephants.

To promote newcomers, curator Marlies Wirth of the MAK will introduce 10 emerging young talents, like Danish artist Christian Falsnaes, who tests the boundaries of audience participation by inviting visitors to cut the clothes off his body and pin them onto frames for a unique collaborative collage.

viennacontemporary art fair vienna
© Viennacontemporary

Still, getting to this point amid stiff competition from more established art fairs wasn’t always easy. Steinbrecher-Pfandt admits that “at first it was difficult to communicate to people that there was a gem right in the heart of Europe which may have been overlooked.”

However, the persistence paid off as Viennacontemporary gained the trust of exhibitors and word of mouth raised their standing – with the city’s charms an added bonus. “Once you get caught by Vienna, people tend to return!”

Sep 21-24, Marx Halle. 3., Karl-Farkas-Gasse 19. viennacontemporary.at

Genevieve Doyle
Genevieve Doyle is writing for METROPOLE on her summer off from reading English Literature at The University of Cambridge. When she isn’t attending fairs to buy and source beautiful antiques and textiles, she likes painting murals and walking her very large Irish deerhound.

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