Its not about beautification

BIG ART opens spaces

University of Vienna, Iris Andraschek, 2009 / © Hertha Hurnaus

The Bundesimmobiliengesellschaft (BIG), a federal real estate company, realizes art projects all over Austria.

The beginning was an end: the legal obligation to invest one percent of the gross building costs for any large public construction project in “Kunst am Bau” (architecture art) expired at the start of the millennium. Since then, BIG ART – i.e. the Bundesimmobilien­gesellschaft team tasked with realizing permanent and temporary art projects in and around selected BIG buildings since 2005 – has spoken more of a “voluntary commitment.” “We think it’s important to promote art in public space and make room for dialogue between architecture and art,” says engineer Hans-Peter Weiss, managing director at BIG. A five-member advisory board of architects, artists and curators invites artists to enter competitions for selected projects, although real estate users and project architects can nominate and vote as well. The focus is on universities and schools, as two-thirds of BIG’s portfolio is educational buildings. 24 artworks have been realized since 2005, with the division awarding one or two projects each year. “It needs to have a certain public and architectural quality. We would rather do fewer projects and keep the quality level high than splash something on every partition wall out there,” says Regina Barta, team leader at BIG ART. “It’s not about beautification, but about enabling experiments.”

This is also reflected in the socio-political approach of many BIG ART projects. In 2009, Iris Andraschek rendered the towering, oversized shadow of a female figure with fist raised across the arcade courtyard at the University of Vienna. Titled “The Muse Has Had It,” the work symbolically opposes male dominance in the academic world. Situated in an ancestral portrait gallery of men, the artist’s inlaid work got “under the university’s skin” – and is of course a socio-political statement as well.

Art is meant to break with everyday life and exist apart from the socially-mandated need for efficiency. Realized by artist Maria Hahnenkamp and architect Willi Frötscher as part of the project “Metamorphoses of Space and Time,” the ability of art to “open spaces” is reflected in the design of the interior courtyard of the Technical College on Spengergasse in Vienna’s 5th district. This ability is also exemplified in the “Transcendence Elevator,” BIG ART’s current project for the University for Art and Design Linz, where Karin Sander turns a functional goods elevator into an accessible, illuminated glass sculpture, allowing it to literally go through the roof. The university thus communicates with the city by means of art.

Text by Rainer Sigl:

Rainer Sigl studied German philology and art history. He is a freelance journalist writing and speaking about digital media and video games for radio FM4 and “Der Standard,” among others.

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