Ten Years of Art at Webster

With Wine and Conversation Flowing, a Celebration of Intentional Ambiguity

Artist Johannes Deutsch, one of the first exhibitors at the gallery, with Tom Lang with Barbara Hillerman | Photo: WUV

Members of the Webster Vienna community might often have puzzled over the exact meaning of the open space with its wall of windows in front of the OMV Conference Center on the third floor of the Vienna campus.  Wall lettering announces that it is, in fact, ‘The Thomas K. Lang Gallery’, yet when no art exhibits happen to be mounted, the space reverts to its other function as study-space and waiting area.

‘Serious Immobility,’ the exhibition currently on display by the artist Christian Mayer, intentionally draws attention to these spatial and functional ambivalences by highlighting other spatial transformations.

On Tuesday, November 21st, however, the space’s function as a gallery was left in no doubt. Tom Lang, Chair of the Art Department at Webster University, St. Louis, and his wife Mary Jo Wilmes had flown over for the celebrations marking the tenth anniversary of the gallery.  As Tom peered at the photographs on display, glass of wine in hand, a throng of well-wishers and members of the art community gathered around him to honor his visit.

In a way, the credit for the gallery’s inception is due to Barbara Hillerman, Head of the Vienna Art Department, who recognized the necessity for implementing Tom’s global vision for public art not only at the St. Louis campus but also in Vienna.  Betty Ortner-Chopin, Director emeritus, agreed with the idea of a gallery space, to be named after the St. Louis chair.  Betty said then, and still maintains today, that ‘Business students need to study art – and not just in a classroom but in their daily environment.’

In fact, the gallery may be viewed as Tom’s holistic vision come true, a reflection of the Webster global community, with artists of international repute exhibiting to students from all over the world.  This fruitful exchange also exists in the form of regular faculty transfers between the St. Louis and the Vienna campuses.

The gallery, an intentionally ambiguous space on the third floor of Webster’s Berchtoldgasse campus, has mounted at least fifty-five exhibitions of work by artists not only from the Vienna community but also from the United States, northern Britain, and, recently increasingly often, the former Eastern Europe.

At its inception, Webster adjunct faculty member Beverly Piersol co-ordinated the space and ran the exhibitions, a task that was continued from 2001 – 2002 by Linda Klösel, and which is today in the hands of Sabine Dortschy, whose contacts in the art scene ensure that the gallery attracts a cutting-edge roster of contemporary artists working in a wide range of media.

Participants in the Tuesday night celebration were treated to an overview of the gallery’s history in the form of a DVD created by Art and Media faculty members Holger Lang and Elisabeth Knass.  The film spooled continuously on monitors set up in the gallery space, and featured film footage of every gallery event to date, including the names of the artists, the dates of the exhibitions, and visual clips of the artists’ work.

Guests received a copy of the DVD to take home at the end of the evening.  A time line, designed and printed by Webster adjunct faculty member Michael Schneider, was also displayed in the space.

Inside the adjacent conference center, after opening remarks by Academic Director Dr. Bil Fulton, the audience gathered to witness the bestowing of awards by Barbara Hillerman on Tom Lang and Mary Jo Wilmes for their commitment to and support of the art program here in Vienna; the gallery co-ordinators past and present were also honored.  Betty Ortner-Chopin recounted the origins of the gallery, and Tom concluded the official part of the ceremony with a brief speech.

Tom’s a modest man, with an easy-going manner and innate good humor and one could easily be forgiven for thinking that the accolades might have made him somewhat uncomfortable.  Any fears that the evening might become too serious, however, were quickly dispelled by the video, ‘Who is Tom Lang?’ produced by Holger Lang (no relation) which followed.

The film showed Tom juggling (with various degrees of success), Tom relaxing in front of his wood stove, his banjo on his knee, wife Mary Jo trimming Tom’s copious white beard, and Tom driving around in his wife’s Mini Cooper, contemplating Great Thoughts.

Back in the gallery space, the evening coasted happily to its conclusion with hors d’oeuvres and a hot buffet.  Bread was broken, wine flowed, and conversation was stimulating.  Faces from the past reappeared, and new acquaintances were forged, a community not only of art aficionados, artists and art teachers, but of friends.

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