Since centuries Vienna has been the melting pot of mid-European culture. Although Habsburg Austria could be defined as a forerunner of globalization until the outbreak of WW1, contemporary Austria still has to come to grips with the legacy of its Eastern neighbors. Bordering on 5 of the 10 new Eastern EU member nations, the country has traditionally been containing a significant number of minorities from those regions.
Being avant-garde by thinking on old links, Leopold Museum mounted its first survey exhibition on Polish Modernism of the interwar Europe two years ago. This year’s edition of Kunst Wien (held 7-10th of October at the Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna), the annual national-scale art fair which turned international this year for the first time, announced to the surprise of Viennese, that of 43 foreign exhibited galleries, more than 30 were participants from Eastern Europe. While the attention in this fair was mostly drawn to already internationally-recognized names with high price tags such as Franz West, Arnulf Rainer, Elke Krystufek, and Valie Export, it was less well known that quite a few up and coming Austrians artists such as Milica Tomic are originally from former Yugoslavia.
At Wiener Kuenstlerhaus, The New Ten is on view (until 16 January). Works by 20 younger artists selected from the new EU member countries are mirroring on the socio-political environment of the nations in question. Such an approach is not a new idea. Blood and Honey: Future is in Balkan, shown already in the summer of 2003 at Sammlung Essl, covered the most recent arts scene of the Balkan nations. This Harald Szeemann-trademarked exhibition included more than 70 young and mid-career artists eager to hop on the bandwagon of the Western art market. Mr Karlheinz Essl himself, the founder of Essl Collection and owner of an Austrian DIY and housing supply retail chain dominating the Eastern European market, has been conducting his own talent-search missions in the Eastern European and Balkan regions since several years.
More recently, if not more timely, the Belgrade Art Inc.: Moments of Change show at Secession and the smaller but cleverer Free Entrance: Art from Bratislava, Budapest, Ljubljana, and Vienna show at BAWAG Foundation this summer bore witness to many refreshing talents from the former Eastern Bloc which are not only fully keeping pace with the latest media language and technology but also excelling in witty and satirical commentaries. After this phase of artistic exploration of common themes old and new, artists from both sides of the former iron curtain will set the tone for a Europe which will hopefully never stop to explore itself.
The New Europe: Culture of Mixing and Politics of Representation, Generali Foundation in Wien, from 20 January until 24 April, HYPERLINK “http://foundation.generali.at” http://foundation.generali.at. Yet another show on the arts of Eastern Europe, this time curated by two Romanian-born guest curators. The show proposes to be a platform for examining and redefining the identity of old ‘New Europe’, as it struggles to overcome the East-West conflict resulting from socio-cultural differences.
Bettina Rheims: A Retrospective, Kunsthaus Wien, until 24 April, HYPERLINK “http://kunsthauswien.com” http://kunsthauswien.com. For those who were fascinated with the glamour and decadence of the roaring 1920s depicted in Tamara de Lempicka exhibition past winter, this will be the photographic parallel.
Nordic Dawn:Modernism’s Awakening in Finland 1890-1920, Austrian National Gallery Belvedere, from15 June until 2 October. An excellent opportunity to get a glimpse of the extensive quantity of works of modern art during the Turn-of-the-Century Finnish Modern era which was esteemed by Viennese modernists yet virtually unknown to the public to date.
* This article originally appeared in the Contemporary magazine issue no. 73 in 2005.