So what's all this about Vienna?

Newcomers to the gallery scene report

Magdalena Zeller, Laura Windhager, Cornelis van Almsick, Oliver Croy, Henrikke Nielsen and Sophie Tappeiner (f. l. t. r.) / photo: Christian Wind

Vienna’s neo-galleries: where formerly a few well-established and smooth-running houses monopolized the market, a generation of young gallery owners are now rapidly jostling into focus who not only have exciting art in their portfolios, but frequently bring along their own collectors. Sophie Tappeiner, Cornelis van Almsick, Henrikke Nielsen, Laura Windhager and Ilaria Leoni talked to Patricia Grzonka and revealed what made them hit on Vienna.

In spring 2017 Sophie Tappeiner opened An der Hülben opposite the Galerie Emanuel Layr in Vienna’s first district, in the time-tested rooms of the former Galerie Insam. The art historian, who studied in England, came to Vienna three years ago. “I originally opted for Vienna because here I saw a great potential for an agency promoting young art. There’s a fantastic scene in Vienna that hasn’t yet hit the radar sufficiently.” Part of this scene are, without doubt, the two art universities with their diverse activities and actions.

In Cornelis van Almsick from Galerie Zeller van Almsick a neo-gallerist has settled in Vienna who had already worked previously on ambitious alternative space projects in the city. He has now ventured the step together with Magdalena Zeller to start up as a professional agent for artists. What keeps him in Vienna? “Something that’s been noticeable for years and is being manifest in start-ups of galleries and alternative spaces: Vienna’s young scene is buzzing with creativity and zest for action! Our collectors mainly come from abroad, and for them there’s a great deal to discover here.”

Galerie Croy Nielsen is a “genuine” new starter in Vienna, although the gallerist couple Oliver Croy and Henrikke Nielsen already ran their own exhibition space in Berlin Mitte. The gap between established galleries and the upcoming generation made them relocate to Vienna. They opened their space in an old building on Parkring in October 2016. The decisive factor persuading Nielsen to venture along this path was, first and foremost, the city’s special aura. “Vienna has a lot to offer; it’s a city that people love to visit. I like the running discourse here; I feel people’s desire to know about the arts and what we are doing.” And what’s your experience so far of being a newcomer here? “Extremely positive, we feel very welcome here.”

What opportunities does Vienna hold for a young gallerist? Somewhat off the beaten track of the newly forming cluster of galleries in the first district with its center at Stubentor, Laura Windhager’s Gianni Manhattan opened on Wassergasse in the third district. She, too, operates her space in Vienna mainly with young artists. “Vienna is an ideal breeding ground for young gallerists. It’s not at all as if we’re sitting in a cultural vacuum here, on the contrary: Vienna has been a complex cultural scene for a long time, with highly reputed institutions and an internationally established gallery scene. The existent structures enable young artistic formations to network efficiently and rapidly. You don’t waste any time building up the necessary infrastructure.”

Affordable premises and gallery funding are economic arguments as well, and Laura Windhager is not the only one to mention them. In comparison with the major European cultural cities, Vienna is still reasonably priced, at least at present.

After initial nomadic activity as an agent in Rome, Ilaria Leoni moved her Galerie Ermes-Ermes to Vienna last year into the former horse stables near Naschmarkt. The potential of this space was a decisive reason for her choice of Vienna. Leoni was looking for a place that could inspire artists – and has certainly found it. Now she’s freshening up the scene with Roman esprit and an international art program.

These are five new galleries in addition to the newcomer spaces of recent years: we might almost think it’s getting rather crowded in Vienna, but the newcomers to the gallery scene are of the opposite opinion. They are optimistic in their view that a group of young gallerists is just starting to get established in the city, and are therefore working not so much in rivalry with one another as in collective networking.

Text by Patricia Grzonka:

Patricia Grzonka, born in St. Gallen, Switzerland, lives and works in Vienna as an art historian, curator and author. She writes about art and architecture for “Neue Zürcher Zeitung,” “Monopol” and “Kunstbulletin.” Her writing has appeared in “Art,” “Frieze,” “springerin,” “profil” and “Texte zur Kunst,” along with many other art and architecture publications.

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