In 2014, Steinbrecher-Pfandt began by cutting the number of participating galleries by some 30 exhibitors, the intent being to refine the overall quality of work for sale. And whereas Viennafair had taken place each spring without an annually standardized weekend, she aimed to set a fixed date. Yet Reed Exhibitions, the fair’s then-owner, could not accommodate what she saw as an eminently important goal because of scheduling commitments to its other fairs. Thus, Steinbrecher-Pfandt made the decision to separate from Reed and instead furthered her partnership with Russian entrepreneur Dmitry Aksenov.
The fair was rebranded as viennacontemporary. Steinbrecher-Pfandt brought many of Viennafair’s defining features—the bulk of its creative team, its eastward focus, its support from Austrian galleries, and its high standing among local institutions—with her to the new venture. Under its new title and stewardship, in 2015 viennacontemporary’s inaugural edition was held during the third week of September at the sprawling industrial-style event space Marx Halle, and garnered rave reviews from visitors and participating galleries alike.
For Steinbrecher-Pfandt, the support of local dealers was central to improving the fair’s quality and international standing. “This is their scene,” she explains, “and they want to protect it. They want it to work.” In a testament to the conviction Steinbrecher-Pfandt inspires, many of Viennafair’s participating galleries—and, importantly, nearly all of its longstanding exhibitors based in the Austrian capital—migrated to viennacontemporary with her.
The new name, she is quick to point out, makes explicit the fair’s ambition to assert that exceptional contemporary art is exhibited, sold, and made in Vienna. The city’s identity is rooted in a commitment to cultural excellence, she continues, and this tradition invariably informs the current scene. “Vienna was built more than 150 years ago,” Steinbrecher-Pfandt explains as she surveys the bustle inside the Marx Halle, “and since then, the city has just been improving and improving that infrastructure. You encounter excellence everywhere: excellent buildings, excellent concerts, excellent art.”