viennacontemporary’s Inaugural Edition Welcomes Big Name Collectors—and a Chainsaw-Wielding Artist
Over 7,000 people people descended on Vienna’s Marx Halle for the inaugural viennacontemporary’s opening day on Wednesday, buoying goodwill among exhibitors who took a leap of faith to follow the fair’s team from ViennaFair to this new format.
viennacontemporary’s team severed ties with Reed Exhibitions last December, choosing to build a new brand in a new location rather than continuing to license the ViennaFair brand from the tradeshow goliath. (A rival team will resurrect the original event at its location in the Messe Wien next month.) The move was bold, and few dealers failed to recognize that the organizers had a lot riding on the fair this week.
With most artwork priced from €3,000 to €30,000, the fair’s vernissage saw a litany of big-name Austrian, Russian, German, and other international collectors lend their support, along with directors of numerous Viennese museums. Set to join their ranks this weekend are the Chinese-American collector Richard Chang, and The Art Newspaper’s owner Inna Bazhenova.
“It’s about comfort,” said viennacontemporary’s artistic director Christina Steinbrecher-Pfandt, who joined as ViennaFair’s director four years ago. “People love comfort. People go to big fairs but go to galleries they know. There’s little left and right for them because they are on a tight schedule. Here there is [more] freedom.” And now that the fair’s date is fixed, unlike previously, it can be coordinated with exhibitions elsewhere in the city—a new Edvard Munch show opened at the city’s Albertina Museum on Friday, for example.
Sales at the fair’s 99 galleries—split roughly three ways between Eastern Europe, Austria, and the rest of the world—have regularly trickled through as the week has proceeded, with a fresh flood of visitors expected this weekend. Austrian and German galleries necessarily sold well, with variable success for those hoping to break into the market.
Vienna’s Mario Mauroner Contemporary Art sold a large canvas by Spanish abstract artist Juan Uslé—part of his ongoing “black paintings” series—for €132,000 to a private Austrian collector, continuing the momentum of the artist’s show at the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn last year. Another highlight of the gallery’s stand was Vadim Zakharov’s Kalinka, Russian Folk Song (2015), oranges threaded on to barbed wire, almost as politically impactful as the artist’s barnstorming raining gold coins at the Russian Pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale. Gallery cofounder Waltraud Mauroner, like many, praised the fair’s “wonderful space”—its 19th-century wrought iron interior dusts up well—a vast improvement on its previous incarnation.
Galerie Michael Schultz vaunted quite possibly the most expensive piece this year, an impressive €550,000 1996 Gerhard Richter from the artist’s “Fuji” series; the gallery had received interest in the work but had yet to confirm its sale as of Friday. Continuing the success it saw in 2014, the Schultz sold a €71,000 Hockney-infused figurative work by Korean artist SEO to a private collector and two pieces by American painter Damian Stamer to German collector Peter Klein, for his publicly-accessible Sammlung Klein in Eberdingen, for €4,000 each.
For many, the new format and tension surrounding the rebrand has worked in the organizers’ favor. “When you get a new fair you hold your breath,” said Geukens & De Vil cofounder Yasmine Geukens, who said sales were comparable to last year. “But we sold eight or nine pieces at the opening and a few in advance.” That art ranged in price from €5,000 to €12,000 and sold to Russian, Austrian, and Belgian buyers, suggesting the gallery’s strategy of returning with the same artists—Belgians Gideon Kiefer and Sophie Kuijken—paid off. “If it goes well, we show them again. If we bring artists once, the buyers forget about them,” she added.
At the time of writing Viennese Galerie St. Stephan Rosemarie Schwarzwälder had sold four out of five of Italian artist Sonia Leimer’s €4,200 I-Träger (2015) chairs upholstered with Soviet materials, to unnamed buyers. A large untitled canvas by Austrian artist Herbert Brandl, brought for local clients and priced at €75,000, remained unsold.
London gallery Richard Saltoun, who was showing in Vienna for the first time, took a similar aim, lining its booth with works from Austrians Valie Export and Renate Bertlmann. Bertlmann also currently flies the flag at Tate Modern’s “The World Goes Pop” exhibition, and was selling here for upwards of €8,000. Gallery spokeswoman Niamh Coghlan said “sales had been okay at this point,” but declined to elaborate further.
Arguably the most exciting moment on Friday was when local artist Roman Pfeffer walked into the venue without anyone’s prior knowledge—carrying a chainsaw. He proceeded to carve into Vienna’s Projektraum Viktor Bucher’s stand, around an artwork, before being asked to stop by security officials. The piece in question, by Italian Aldo Giannotti, was a pencil drawing of a chainsaw directly onto plasterboard. Beneath it, a caption read: “This drawing can be taken for free if the collector comes with a chainsaw and saws the piece of [sic] the wall.” An anxious looking Bucher denied he’d known in advance, and said he was taking the rap from officials—clearly not having banked on anyone calling the artist’s bluff.