Censorship Afterthoughts

As a retort to the festival of contemporary art, ViennaFair, an avant-garde art event called Parkfair was staged in a parking garage of the Stadion Center in the 2nd District. There were a number of noteworthy pieces, but the one to make headlines was the Swiss artist Pirmin Blum’s homage to the Chinese artist Ai WeiWei:

A neon blue sign hanging on the railing of the garage read “FUCK”. While one can debate whether this is “quality” art, it seems that the venue didn’t know what it was getting itself into when it offered the space to the Parkfair organisers, and the Stadion Center took the sign down, removing it from the curated space.

The organisers and the artist both see this as an infringement of artistic freedom, not to mention freedom of speech. Blum called the behaviour “medieval”, asking: “Aren’t we in Austria, in a Democracy?”

The Stadion Center’s justification was that the work of art was a lightning risk, which no one seems to believe.

Being a contemporary art capital is a complicated state of affairs. While providing venues for modern art events is something Vienna has done well for the past decade, much of the city is still warming to the fact that art provokes, and art seeks to exceed the boundaries of the everyday, but also it’s own.

While artistic education is something Vienna has every right to be proud of, nurturing the movers and shakers of new art, some kinds are actively exported, because Vienna’s cityscape is so protected.

The artist Christo studied one semester in Vienna, but left. He and his wife Jeanne Claude then went on to make a significant impact on the art world, with stunning works like the wrapping of the Reichstag in Berlin, the Pont Neuf in Paris, or installing the Gates in New York City’s Central Park. They always denied any deeper meaning to the pieces, but the public was moved. Just not in Vienna.

In this case it may not be the word “fuck” that offended the Stadion Center owners, but more that fact that it was visible from the outside. Is Vienna just so attached to convention that a disruption is seen as vulgar rather than inspiring? As Blum said about his own piece, “Everyone can think what they want about this work. Isn’t that what art is all about, that everyone can form their opinion freely?”

With all the shocking visuals in the music and theatre scenes, this seems like a minor slap. A giant expletive on a parking garage can mean all sorts of things and, if nothing else, is surely a conversation starter.


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