This year the Viennafair brought in two young artistic directors to help reposition the fair as a vital gateway between the West and Central/Eastern Europe. Both Christina Steinbacher, a native of Kazakhstan and Christina Steinbacher, born in Lithuania studied in the UK before taking up prestigious positions in Moscow and New York. Their mission was to reposition and rebrand the fair as a one that leverages Vienna’s proximity to Central and Eastern European galleries and artists while at the same time making the fair comprehensible and unique to major collectors, curators, and museum directors. This seems to be a prudent strategy as many major players in the global art scene have admitted to me a certain degree of “fair fatigue” as the number of art fairs and satellite fairs have grown exponentially over the years. The emergence of dominent global art brands as well as the homogenization of many fairs in the name of global diversity has left many fairs without a unique identity. It does seem a bit absurd to travel to Moscow to see works by Damien Hirst after visiting Miami to check out offerings by AES. Recently web ventures such as the VIP art fair and art.sy have attempted to capitalize this general collector malaise by attempting to offer them the big fair experience in the comfort of their own homes via the internet.
This year’s Viennafair featured 122 galleries with 41 coming from Austria and 47 coming from Central, East, and Southeast Europe. To highlight this emphasis, the directors presented DIYALOG: Art from Turkey which provided a section in the fair with six galleries from Turkey, The Empire Project, MARS İstanbul, Galeri Nev İstanbul, NON, Rampa, and Rodeo. These galleries presented powerful works with a strond regional flavor that was well received by many of the visitors. The fair also included Middendorff Galerie from Frankfurt that exclusively showed the work of Turkish artist Ekrem Yalcindag as well as Merkur from Istanbul which was in the main gallery section.
I often find art fairs a little overwhelming as the largest, sexiest, brightest, and loudest works often command a disproportionate amount of attention often to the detriment of more subtle understated works. Adding the extreme capriciousness of the participating boths into the mix as they sell off works or rehang their wares, it either takes extreme discipline or utter insoucience to take in the whole fair experience. I chose the latter so after two days at this relatively modest fair, I still managed to find myself in unchartered territory.
Overall, I made several general observations. Kinetic sculptures were a big crowd pleaser. Those scuptures that offered movement generally had large audiences. Charim Galerie from Vienna offered some self playing musical instruments by Ivan Bazak. The booth also had a large installation that consisted of a series of ligth bulbs on poles that would submerge and emerge from large beakers full of various liquids (unfortunately, I did not make note of the artist’s name). Vartai Galerija out of Vilnius was a showstopper with its lyrical piece by Žilvinas Kempinas that consisted of a fan and undulating magnetic tape. A similar work by Kempinas, Double O was a huge hit with visitors to MOMA in 2011. Even the potential for movement added intrigue as Knock Knock by Krišs Salmanis courtesy of the Alma Gallery in Riga offered a large large black balloon attached to a drum kick pedal. Another of his works, V offered two trees connected by a wire through a pully system causing one to bow to the bough of the other creating both physical and visual tension.
Animals where a huge theme at the fair whether they were stuffed, skinned, morphed, simulated, painted, or a combination of several beastial manipulations. Like the deer theme that ran rampant in the States for several years, dogs appear to be at the center of the hearts and minds of many of the regional artists.
As the art market becomes more global and the lines between east and west become more blurred, there were a few works that captured the the austere conceptual beauty of those artists born to the east of the Berlin wall. Russian artist Vadim Fišhkin’s miss Christmas presented by Galerija Gregor Podnar in Berlin will strike a somber chord with several generations of those grew up in Central and Eastern Europe.
Roman Opalka who was born in France and moved to Poland in 1946 shows a manic obsessive dedication to a concept of art, time, philosophy, and perseverence. His work Carte de Voyage displayed at Żak/Branicka based in Berlin is a sequential list of numbers on a plain piece of paper starting at 2,307,404 and ending with 2,310,629. This is part of a series that he began in 1965 when he started writing numbers from 1 to infinity. Opalka passed away last year just prior to his 80th birthday after painting his last number, 5,607,249. This means that he did about one page about every 10 days fior the last 45 years of his life.
Another numbers based artwork that may not be as monumental as those of Opalka, but is no less significant, is the subtle work by Croatian artist Goran Trbuljak also shown at Galerija Gregor Podnar. His Untitled work consists of a handcounter similar to those used by airline stewardesses with the number 681 displayed. The label states that the work was completed in 2004 and elaborates,
Untitled 1970 until now (2004)
The total number of persons who have attended the openings of my individual exhibitions (those who have attended more than one exhibition have been counted once)
With the final tally for the Viennafair coming in at 17,132 visitors the tremendous exposure that galleries and the art fairs can give to hitherto unknown or underexposed artist is staggering considering that Trbuljak managed a mere 681 unique visitors over a 34 year period. Steinbrecher and Zaman should be commended for their efforts on this year’s fair and I look forward to the strengthening of the Viennafair’s voice in the upcoming years.