Be contemporary!

Vienna’s gallery scene and the growing appetite for art

Horst Szaal, Elisabeth Melichar and Lisa Kandlhofer (f. l. t. r.) Photo: Christian Wind

What does it mean today to be “contemporary”? And how can gallerists set clear international signals? Ursula Maria Probst talked to the gallerists Elisabeth Melichar and Lisa Kandlhofer, also to Horst Szaal, gallerist and chairman of the Vienna state board of art and antiquity dealers.

“At present the Viennese art market is booming. A young generation of internationally positioned gallerists is swarming into the city. Art fairs such as WIKAM (Wiener Internationale Kunst- & Antiqui­tätenmesse), Art&Antique, viennacontemporary and Parallel Vienna are breaking visitor records. On top of this, VIENNA ART WEEK is now successful in attracting an international public,” says Horst Szaal. He adds that the growing interest in art is also per­vading all social groups, right across the board.

Whereas past statistics showed a particular predilection for historic Vienna, more attention is now being paid to contemporary art. “In Vienna we succeeded in mobilizing international collectors by organizing a special gallery weekend,” thus Elisabeth Melichar calls for a reaction to this public rush by initiating other key program focuses. “The important thing here is to place our stakes on quality; in addition, we must promote the present booming taste for art so much that the interested public will want to have art in their homes and become collectors.” Galleries and art dealers in specific city districts are to cooperate more intensively in actions that promote a more visible public image.”

The growing number of participations in art fairs both at home and on the international scene has greatly accelerated the tempo of gallery work. “It would be important to build up a network of international collectors in Vienna and take them to art fairs. In enabling experiments and giving scope for free activities, galleries and project spaces are enormously important for artistic production.” Lisa Kandlhofer knows what she’s talking about. She worked in New York City before she opened her gallery in Vienna – “in youthful recklessness” – seven years ago.

“Making art tax-deductible would facilitate the access for potential collectors,” says Horst Szaal. Approaches have to be found with the incentive to solving this problem. Because, in contrast to other countries, this doesn’t yet exist in Austria, despite constant efforts of the Association of Austrian Galleries of Modern Art. “We have to get rid of reservations and work at setting up positive welcome signs.”

Text by Ursula Maria Probst:

Ursula Maria Probst lives and works in Vienna as an independent curator and artist. Her key subjects are performance art and art in public space. In 2017 she curated “WELT KOMPAKT?” at MuseumsQuartier Wien; “Du oder ich? Collective Soul. Ethik des Miteinanders” for Kunst im öffentlichen Raum NÖ; and “Encouragement” at Saracura in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil. Previous curatorial work includes “Touch the Reality” (Kunstraum Niederoesterreich, 2016); Austria’s contributions to the 12th Havana Biennial (2015); and “Transcultural Emancipation” by KulturKontakt Austria, the Federal Chancellery and Fluc (since 2014).

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