Brunching at the Kunstbus
A unique space for aspiring contemporary visual artists with a colourful history
Photographer Alexander Mikula (right) at the opening of the Interchanges – Wendepunkt exhibition. In the background is a tryptich photograph on wood, entitled Chamuel | Photo: Martina Hartl
The double-take storefront of M+N Copy Service, unveiled in 2004Photo: | Matthias Wurz
When Brigitte Macho first saw the architectural plan for the front of her copy and print shop, she was puzzled. “I thought he had just photographed it while a Wiener Linien bus was driving by,” admitted the owner of M+N Copy and founder of the art initiative Kunst im Bus.
We were sitting in the small backroom of Macho’s store, opened in February 1988. Above the small coffee table was one of the latest exhibits: photographer Alexander Mikula’s Chamuel, part of the fourth exhibition, Interchange – Wendepunkt at Kunst im Bus, which I had seen a few days earlier. The idea of displaying artwork in such a functional space was compelling, and had brought me back here today for a chat.
The story of one of Vienna’s most unusual art spaces began in 2004, a small yet comfortable storefront with a vision for contemporary art. Located at a hazardous intersection of Heumühlgasse and Schönbrunner Straße in Vienna’s 4th District – just off the lively and cosmopolitan Naschmarkt – the shop is just at the point where a handful of cars can easily miss the sharp-left turn and frequently end up, quite literally, on the premises. So the owner, increasingly frustrated by the near and not-so-near misses, was looking for a way to overhaul the storefront. She sought advice from the architects of the neighbouring t-hoch-n Ziviltechniker GmbH. They came up with a creative, and effective solution: a unique piece of art that doubles as a store.
“At first, all I saw was the bus,” Macho explained with a laugh. Still, she agreed, and M+N Copy Shop was covered with a textile façade of a Viennese public transport bus that few drivers seem keen to challenge. Not a single car has crashed into the shop since.
The Kunstbus storefront
At this stage, all could have gone back to business as usual, but this is where Macho really got started. One piece of art deserves another, she decided, and began offering the M+N Copy shop space to young and aspiring artists.
“Where there is art on the outside, it might as well be displayed inside,” she said with a smile. And Kunst im Bus was born. In the end, it took a few years to get off the ground, but finally, in April 2011, the Vienna-based Italian painter Pierluigi Macchioni (b. 1969), was the first to exhibit here.
Since then, art of many genres has been displayed at Kunst im Bus in semi-annual shows. And the upcoming photographic exhibition by photographer and sportsman Stephan Mantler (b. 1974) – opening 5 October – captures the emotions of athletes at an Ironman Triathlon.
Unlike other galleries, Macho takes no commission on sales, and artists only carry the expenses for the vernissage.
It was not the opening buffet, however, but an intimate Sunday brunch on 15 July, when photographers Alexander Mikula and Andrea Neumann offered an informal tour through their exhibition Interchange – Wendepunkt that ran to the end of the summer. At 10:00, some 20 people were wandering between printers and copy machines, checking out the photographs, while sipping their morning coffee with a Viennese Kipferl.
Alexander Mikula’s Twelve was one of the largest, hanging above a large format printer, 12 variations of a female dancing figure, blurred, like shadows in the distance. “It’s a Shiva’s Dance” Mikula explained, “the Indian Goddess of Destruction and Rebirth. When she stops dancing, all is destroyed and what follows is a new beginning.”
The most impressive photograph on display, Mikula’s Chamuel, a muted image with aggressive orange light as a contrast, more like an iconic painting, is a classic triptych.
Chamuel, the avenging archangel of divine love, at its centre. At its sides, two angel-like persons complement the archaic composition. The photograph was printed on wood, and when standing close-up, the texture reinforced a direct reference to early Christian iconic art.
“I love exploring printing photographs on mediums other than photographic paper. In fact, there is a specific printing process involved for this material,” said Mikula explaining his fascination for unconventional photographic prints. But in this case, the artist was not yet entirely satisfied: ”I had to use modern wood so the printer was able to print onto it. Certainly a compromise, as I would have preferred it to be printed on older wood – like of furniture of the 19th century. But the surface had to be even.”
While sitting at the small coffee table, Macho gazed around at the exhibition, clearly proud. She talked about her pleasure each time a new exhibition is hung at M+N Copy: “I just give the artist the keys to the store, and when I return the next day, I am always excited to see what’s on the walls.”