Vienna is fast becoming not only a popular holiday destination for tourists from Eastern Europe but also the place where Eastern European artists in need of a gateway to the platform in the larger art market gather. This year’s edition of Viennafair, self-acclaimed as the international contemporary art fair focused on the CEE, boasted a nearly 19% increase in attendance compared to the previous year. Only a few months later, when the Venice Biennale lifted its curtain for its 52nd edition in June, the Hungarian Pavilion surprised the visitors by presenting Andreas Fogarasi as its representing artist, a young Austrian artist born in Vienna to Hungarian parents.
Once again Vienna sees itself as the metropolis of new art from Central and Eastern Europe. As a welcome gesture to Bulgaria and Romania joining the EU this year, the Vienna city government invited Bulgarian curator Iara Boubnova to archive the inventories of Vienna’s contemporary art collection and to organize the inaugural exhibition “Long Time No See”(20 June-30 August) to mark the opening of the new MUSA, or Museum auf Abruf (Museum on the Demand) at a stone’s throw of Rathaus, the capital’s city hall.
Despite the concerns by some theorists such as Slovenian Marina Gržinić, who sees the Eastern European art scene being ‘branded’ often under the name of Balkan art, the legendary Harald Szeemann, even before having curated his large-scale survey on the contemporary Balkan art scene titled Blood & Honey at Essl Collection back in 2003, had worked with artists such as Marina Abramovich and Braco Dimitrijević early on in the 1970s in the Documenta. Vienna Künstlerhaus recently staged the International Print Triennial Krakow-Oldenburg-Wien 2007, an international joint effort to rediscover the spirit of Polish tradition of graphic art in times of the digital trends.
Artists hailing from behind the former Iron Curtain are coming into renewed attention. Galerie Ernst Hilger has been fine-tuning on the taste of the wealthiest visitors and art buyers in Vienna – Russians – with its recent show SPUTNIK (30 August-27 September) and Esterházy Palace showed off its ambition in contemporary art collecting with the Central Europe Revisited I (16 July-16 September) show.
The subjects of burdens and traumas from the post-communist past are still the mainstay dealt with by artists from the former Eastern bloc, as seen, for instance, in the work by Sanja Ivekovic in Shooting Back (until 28 October, Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary). But younger artists are shifting their outlook towards the contemporary condition, seen for instance at “VirtuAlbania”, part of the annual Steirischer Herbst festival (Graz, 20 September-14 October) and “RE:PLACE” (Siemens_artLab, 4 October-10 November), which is presenting young artists from Bratislava commenting on the ‘twin cities’ – Vienna and Bratislava – and their common, and not always untroubled history re-seen in the contemporary context.
Istanbul Now, Galerie Lukas Feichtner, 14 September-10 November
The Gallery mounted a show dedicated to the topic of the latest art scene in Istanbul. The exhibition presents 21 artists offering unique visual commentaries on the state of the nation’s capital.
Drago Persic Solo Exhibition, Engholm Engelhorn Galerie, 9 November-22 December http://www.engholmengelhorn.com/Freshly graduated from the Academy of the Fine Arts in Vienna, the young artist Drago Persic, born in Banja Luka, Bosnia-Herzegovina and currently working in Vienna has his first solo show.
*This article originally appeared in the Contemporary magazine issue no. 95 in 2008.