Art Cluster Goes Local

The sixth annual Vienna Art Week brightened a drab November, this year’s theme “Crossing Limits: Art in Urban Transitions”

The Franz Joseph Saal at the Dorotheum auction house, co-organizers of the Vienna Art Week | Photo: R.R. Rumpler

It was a Monday morning. A crowd had gathered in an upstairs gallery of the Dorotheum, Vienna’s venerable auction house, where centuries of Austrian art and craft are up for offer, for the kick off Vienna Art Week. A project of Art Cluster Vienna, an umbrella organization of the Academy of Fine Arts, Kunsthalle Wien, the Belvedere, Secession, and the Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna Art Week (Nov. 15- Nov 21) turns the city into seven days  of guided tours, panel discussions on performance art and open gallery days to studio visits and the 18th Vienna Architecture Congress.

Among those present for the opening event were the Artistic Director and President of Art Cluster Vienna, Robert Punkenhofer and Martin Böhm, Agnes Husslein-Acro, Director of Belvedere and Marie-Laure Bernadac, former director of Bordeaux Museum of Contemporary Art, the CAPC.

Their frustrations were with the state of art education in Austria, particularly in the schools.

“There is no education,” Husslein-Acro asserted, as heads nodded in agreement. But there was enthusiasm in other areas – highlights from past art weeks and expression enthusiasm for the coming days’ artistic adventures.

After a brief study of the Vienna Art Week program, we found Robert Punkenhofer in the next room, chatting with reporters. Vienna Art Week was born out of the perception that Vienna had lost its edge vis-à-vis other world capitals, such as Mexico City, where the art scene is big news, valued by government and public alike. Art in Vienna needed some sort of breakthrough, something that would “draw and bind artists together, without any competition involved,” Punkenhofer said, “an opportunity to bring the community together.”

This ethos explains why Art Cluster Vienna and its 23 participating institutions are so integral to the overall success of Vienna Art Week.

“It wouldn’t be possible for one institution do all of this just on its own,” Punkenhofer admitted. Along with other private sponsors, Art Cluster has worked to support artistic projects citywide and helped restore Vienna in “its rightful place” as an important destination for visual culture.

The opening exhibition, Crossing Limits: Art in Urban Transitions, was held at Sammlung Lenikus, a spacious flat turned gallery, on the Bauernmarkt in 1st District.

The entrance to the studio is hidden among the houses, and without noticing the small obscure address tag easy to miss. Curator Maria Ursula Probst greeted guests, amidst eager faces and excited conversation. Probst had also curated last year’s show, Center of Attention: Art as Sociotopia, and it would be interesting to see the continuities. We entered as a long hallway with refreshments, magazines and on into the first of six large rooms dedicated to the exhibition.

In mounting her shows, Probst is concerned with resisting easy categories, “One prerequisite… is to have art actions taking place in temporarily used spaces,” she said. This year’s concept was to involve Vienna artists as part of an artist in residency program. Probst chose the 21 artists who were exploring the interrelation between art, body, and urban spaces.

“It is particularly in the pulsating Viennese performance-art scene that a dynamic of role-making and role-taking emerges,” she said, the profile of the artist under the influence of language and the enactment of city life.

Artist Marissa Lobo had contributed a work entitled, Iron Mask, White Torture, Installation, 2010. A native of Brazil, Lobo is interested in raising awareness of colonial violence. On a projection screen, she retold the legend of Anastasia, a slave woman who was kidnapped by white Brazilian men and forced to wear an iron mask as punishment for not fulfilling their sexual demands. This mask prevented her from speaking and over the years became a symbol of colonial brutality and violence.

Another event included an interview marathon called “Talking Heads,” where boundary-crossing artists discussed their work. American artist and architect Vito Acconci, vividly explained how he had evolved from poet to video and installation artist, to performance art and finally into the field of architecture. Best known for his controversial installation Seedbed (1971) where he hid under a gallery ramp, constantly attempting to masturbate as people walked up and down the incline – sexual fantasies based on footsteps. His intention was to bring public into the work’s production, to sew seeds, the connection between artist and viewer.

“I don’t know if we can cross limits,” he reflected. “If architecture is inherently a public space, can there be little recesses that are more private? We try to mix and if we think of mixing, more than crossing limits. Can we mix one kind of thing with another?”

“Visual art as a regressive thing,” Acconci said; thus he is more interested in architecture and design because it is an indivisible part of everyday life.

From its early focus on “insiders,” more recently participants have included international artists as well as small galleries, public spaces and up-and-coming studios. The goal each year is to take a step further, learning from the past, reaching beyond and certainly traversing new ground.

“This year the spotlight was on the artist, and the art that is being produced, shown and discussed in the city,” Punkenhofer concluded – becoming again “very clear that Vienna not just the world capital of music but among the most important cities for the (visual) arts.”

Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » appearance » Widgets » and move a widget into Advertise Widget Zone