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Vienna is reclaiming its key position in Central Europe’s art scene and doing it in a very subtle way. I began my stay with a mandatory visit to the Kunsthistorisches Museum to admire the most exceptional van Dyck collection I have ever seen, and continued my historic journey in imperial Vienna through the Albertina and Leopold Museum Privatstiftung to enjoy the highly inspiring Museumsquartier and rediscover the rich art history present in this former world center.
I was in Vienna for the city’s annual art week around Vienna Contemporary (September 22-25), which began with Parallel Vienna (September 21-25) in the former post office of Dominikanerbastei (before it will be turned into a luxury hotel in a few months). Parallel is in its fourth year and has so much going on, it was difficult to find its focus. It is a cross between an art fair and the open studio of an art school. The result is that emerging artists share the walls with well-established artists, and such a blend did at times spur unique and inspiring dialogue between generations and cultures from galleries in Central Europe and former Soviet countries.
In my opinion, this very well planned, youthful, and vibrant opening made quite a statement with respect to all other European cities, and Berlin in particular. (Everyone I spoke to considered Berlin to be the real rival to their fair city.) The artists that particularly struck me, besides the very impressive and gruesome Hermann Nitsch installation, were David Roth, Gigi Hofer, Gerald Moser, and the Ragdoll Twins.
The main fair, Vienna Contemporary, was held at Marx Hall and offered a rich conference program as well as global cultural agenda. This year’s fair welcomed 112 galleries from 28 countries. The best Austrian booth was awarded to Lisa Kandhandler for its site-specific installation. The fair has clearly decided to impress visitors with its eclectic group of galleries from Central Europe, the U.K. and the U.S.
Postmasters (New York) offered an exhibition of small sculptures from artist such as Harriet Salmon, Niki de Saint Phalle, Jenny Morgan, and Agathe Snow. Hidde Van Seggelen’s booth exhibited the work of Andy Holden in a quite powerful manner, as well.
The big issue that hung in the air at the fair is Austria’s political situation in regards to the refugee crisis in Vienna and Central Europe. The art community is trying to play its part by opening doors and questioning established concepts with respect to this unprecedented humanitarian crisis at Europe’s threshold.
I have to say, “Bravo!” to Vienna Contemporary for organizing such a well calibrated event that has managed to bring together the commercial and intellectual; the emerging and established players, ultimately opening our eyes to the still not as well known creativity coming out of Central and Eastern Europe.
I will definitely be watching closely to see what comes next.