Feeding Young Art

Austria Contemporary at the Essel Museum

Vienna is a city known for its rich cultural history, musical prodigies, classic literature, art, and architecture. So, what happens now? On the edge of the 21st century, will we see a shift from a love of the classics towards an increased support of the contemporary?
There was a riveting mix of people on a Thursday in mid November at the Essel Museum Vernisage in Klosterneuburg, ranging from the curators and collectors in cocktail dresses and well-cut suits with thick, knotted tie, and hair styled to perfection to the dread-lock-sporting, bright garb of the 60’s “tweenie,” all getting the feel for successful “young art.”  Perhaps here we would find an answer of sorts.

Betonbuder, a graphic-design-meets-street-art-meets-contemporary piece by Clemens Wolf

There must have been around 300 people lumped into the Essel’s special exhibition gallery where each of the thirteen artists carefully chosen by Essel from some 500 applicants were given space to display work as “Austria Contemporary – Emerging Artists.”
Cutting a pathway through the crowd across the parquet floor of the exhibit hall, I noticed a few works that stood out from the white washed walls as close to revelational. Two massive canvases in black and white oil by Clemens Wolf particularly grabbed the eye, pulling the viewer into the artist’s obsession with abandoned industrial buildings.  With works entitled “Berlin Fence” and “Sofiensäle,” Wolf poured the intensity of oils into stenciled outlines, making the images lightly blurred to evoke a kind of nostalgic urban modernism. Boundaries were crossed on all sides in a sort of graphic-design-meets-street-art-meets-contemporary, avant-garde way, if one might label it.

“It is always inspiring to see young artists’ work being promoted and visited by the public,” said one young artist standing in admiration of Wolf’s work.  Bahareh Eram, an upcoming Austro/Iranian artist, feels trapped in an invisible underground and at times, wishes there was more public support.

“Although the city (of Vienna) is doing increasingly more,” she said, “I still think that such support is rare, and exhibits like this are too few and far between.”

Virgilius Moldovan’s larger-than-life sized human figures made of silicon evoked a particular uproar: “Isn’t that Pope Benedict?” a well-dressed woman in her thirties exclaimed in shock.  Yes, in fact, the two figures making up a piece, entitled “Im Tanz,” were clearly recognizable as Pope John Paul standing over and interlocking hands with Pope Benedict, whom he carried on his back. The aged, withered skin looked warm enough to touch and felt astonishingly like the real thing. Is this what a breast implant feels like?
Where do statues like this end up?  Will they be bought up by a federal museum such as the MAK? Or will they remain forever stationed in the artists’ studios?

“I would put this up in my living room,” came a voice suddenly from the neighboring station. A small, spunky woman clothed in a mix of Gucci and Chanel stood assessing the work of Markus Bacher with a knowing eye. “I love the colors. I wonder how much it is?”
It was Dr. Delia Rossmann, a well-known lung specialist in Vienna. She admired the painting with its soothing background of terra cotta, which, if you looked closely, was, in fact, the result of several layers of various color mixtures.  As the eye adjusted to the abstract foreground, comical mythological references emerged, such as everyday things like linked sausages or what looked like a boy on a skateboard layered in multi-colored dabs of oil.  Paintings like these don’t need much extra help.  With the right kind of exposure in temporary museum exhibits or gallery shows, the public finds them hard to resist.

One word of caution: the museum itself was a bit of a disappointment.  It seemed the organizers were everything but organized, to the immense dismay of the viewers who had driven the distance in the middle of rush hour to get there and weren’t even greeted with the refreshments that are traditional at any vernisage – no wine or juice, no nibbles – even though the event was scheduled from 18:45 to 21:30.

“This is unbelievable,” said an older women standing in the lobby debating on how she would get back down to town: “It’s 21:00, I am starving, and we are up here in the middle of nowhere. It’s raining outside and there’s no bus for another 30 minutes.”

Artists may starve but the public should be fed.

Still, it was a stimulating assemblage of work: a glimpse of the emerging art scene that may reveal what Vienna’s art “future” is all about.

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