When will you realize, Vienna waits for you?
The latest installment of the now-six-years-old Vienna Art Week, directed by Robert Punkenhofer, arrived with something of a dull thud during the week of Nov. 15-21, 2010. Too bad. One of a long line of ambitious, incredibly funded, far-reaching Viennese art-world extravaganzas, it pummeled the city with openings, performances, illustrious visitors, local color and panel discussions and, oh, a stripper. Can’t forget the stripper!
But who was here to witness all this? Strike the set! Call up tree falling in forest. . . did anyone catch any of that? The city was waist-high in art events but seemed to lack an audience. Berlin does a gallery weekend and throngs fly in, Vienna puts on a full-fledged cultural revolution just for the locals. Unfair.
Or perhaps Vienna Art Week is like a scene from Mozart’s opera buffa Cosě fan tutte, in which two lovers do all they can in a completely farcical way to test each other’s loyalty. Thus it is between the city and its art fest.
At any rate, the affair was kicked off with a VIP opening for "Crossing Limits: Art in Urban Transitions," organized by Ursula Maria Probst from the collection at the Sammlung Martin Lenikus, an increasingly high-profile player on the Vienna art scene. Martin Lenikus, a collector and real estate mogul, provides studio spaces within his properties, hosting artists such as Laleh Khorramian, Jannis Varelas (who was included in the New Museum’s show of the Dakis Joannou collection) and Eddie Martinez over the past few years.
The night ended with a blowout party at the Dorotheum, featuring DJ and artist Nicolas Jasmin. As everyone knows, the Dorotheum began as a pawnshop over 300 years ago and is now the oldest of Europe’s auction houses.
"Crossing Limits" was the theme for the whole Vienna Art Week, and the logo shows the words etched on a straight-edge razor. Handle with care, it seems to say, though there was a ton of great stuff to see.
Only months after the death of the influential and provocative German filmmaker, artist, theater and opera director Christoph Schlingensief, globetrotting superpatron Francesca von Habsburg’s eight-year-old permanent space in Vienna, Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (TB A21), mounted a blockbuster homage titled, "Christoph Schlingensief: Figura cuncta videntis" (The All-Seeing Eye).
This is one of those cases where a private foundation put up a high caliber show worthy of a much larger institution. As its centerpiece, the exhibition presents Schlingensief’s Animatograph (Iceland Edition), a frenetic multi-disciplinary installation that was originally shown at TB A21 in Iceland in 2005. (TB A21 has mounted other pavilions, including ones by David Adjaye and Olafur Eliasson, which was at the 51st Biennale di Venezia.)
Other artists in the Schlingensief show include Jonathan Meese, who provides a signature, low-lit installation of graphic staged drawings and bulbous bronze. Icelandic artist and pop star Ragnar Kjartansson contributes an enchanting multi-screened video installation of him plucking and playing away in remote snowed-in locales, presented in a deserted loft space scattered with bales of hay. (Check out The One by his band, Trabant, on YouTube.)
Kjartandsson rocked out with Chicks on Speed at the otherwise very civil Secession dinner, an annual event to benefit this most deserving of institutions, which drew 360 people in the Secession’s largest dinner ever! Hello economic stability!
The next day Secession hosted an interview marathon titled "Talking Heads," which included among others Vito Acconci and the bicoastal U.S. artist Trevor Paglen, who has the current exhibition at Secession, featuring his surveillance-based photos and videos (Paglen famously tracks surveillance satellites across the heavens, making picturesque images of starry skies marked by all-but-invisible satellite orbits).
Winiarzyk, a gallery opened two years ago by the art advisor Karol Winiarzyk, presented an exhibition titled "Along the Lines" by the young German artist Caroline Heider, who takes high-key, fashion-mag-type photos of women and folds and spindles them brutally in a pointed critique.
At Georg Kargl Fine Arts is a two-person show with Austrian artist Herbert Hinteregger and Belgian-born artist Koenraad Dedobbeleer sharing the space. In one of those best-of-both-worlds shows, Hinteregger’s large, hardedge geometric paintings with elements of inky paint fit snugly among Dedobbeleer’s obtuse architectural extensions and sculptural abnormalities. The entire show is not just two artists stuck together but built together and perfect compliments. Like bread and butter, sushi and sake, etc.
It was nice to see some small text work, done it those lovely old-fashioned typewriter-ribbon colors, by Henri Chopin, the French Avant-garde sound and concrete poet in "Poesie sonore" at Galerie Andreas Huber.
And then there was the irrepressible Alanna Heiss, the longtime director of P.S.1, recently retired. In one of those, Oh-My-God-What-is-Going-to-Happen-Next moments during a panel discussion on the role of private philanthropy vs. public support in the arts, Heiss juxtaposes two projections, one a painting of the bloodthirsty Catherine de Medici and the other a present-day photo of the aforementioned Francesca von Habsburg. Below sits Habsburg looking up at the pairing. And in a city famous for a certain phychoanalyst’s couch, there wasn’t one large enough for the audience to collectively crawl under.
A gallery space called CoCo (Contemporary Concerns) mounted a performance week with Spike magazine, featuring among others the Glaswegian sound artist Sue Tompkins and the New York City performance duo Rancourt / Yatsuk, who have a kind of traveling salesman-spiritualist act. Rumor has it that a stripper dressed as a police officer also performed there that night, but sadly I missed it (isn’t that the way?). Coco continues to add spice to the Austrian art scene.
Remember, all are welcome, since. . . Vienna waits for you.
JULIE RYAN is an artist, writer and curator living in Vienna and New York. She has participated in the Lenikus residency program in Vienna.