Border crossing

“What makes us special is the fantastic commitment of the people here.”

Photo: Matthias Bildstein (left) and Matthias Krinzinger (right) © Marlene Rahmann

Private, nonprofit art spaces can be found all over Vienna including in expensive districts. Their programs and objectives are as diverse as their locations. Three alternative spaces will be part of a VIENNA ART WEEK guided tour. The following are short introductions to each.

The Neue Kunstverein Wien (NKW) isn’t only a must for architecture fans who like to make pilgrimages to the prominent address of Herrengasse 6–8. As Vienna’s first skyscraper, the highrise exudes a New York lifestyle in Vienna’s inner city, just as it did when first erected in 1932. Befitting its location, a concierge monitors the number of visitors to the top floor, from where they hope to catch a breathtaking view of the city.

Since 2012, the NKW has made use of various spaces within the valuable property, from the basement to the observation deck on the 13th floor; larger exhibitions rooms are occasionally rented out. “Our goal is to use the central and historical location of the NKW to provide a free zone of exchange and presentation of contemporary art, where many of our projects respond directly to the architectural surroundings,” explains director Katarzyna Uszynska. Past guest curators include Andreas Fogarasi, William Forsythe, Toni Schmale, Ellen Cantor and Shirin Neshat, as well as Eastern European and Scandinavian artist groups. But how do they make rent? “Through support from the highrise on Herrengasse, as well as private sponsors and subsidies from the federal chancellery, all of whom support the program,” says Uszynska.

An already renovated former workshop building in the rear courtyard of a late 19th-century building at Zentagasse 38 in Vienna’s Margareten district, transformed by artist Barbara Höller and architect Konrad Rautter into an atelier with a showroom encompassing different art forms.

The sehsaal is a classic artist-run space combining both art production and forum. The society’s name, “sehsaal. Verein zur Förderung experimenteller Raumkunst” (society promoting experimental space art) derives from Höller and Rautter’s early nineties’ atelier on Luftbadgasse in Vienna’s sixth district. The program continues today: “The sehsaal shows outstanding spatial artistic interventions, including recent work from Anna Maria Bogner and Carlo Galli. At our events, we try to explore the intersections between visual art, architecture and movement,” says Höller. In addition, the program expanded in 2016 to include the discursive “pur” series, as well as film, music and dance offerings in cooperation with the University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna. The overlap between inside and outside in the public space and cultural agendas of the bustling fifth district remain central. Like Höller and Rautter, the audience is mostly middle-aged. The fact that they’ve remained loyal to the sehsaal over the years speaks for the quality of its program.

Not far from the U3 subway station Gaso­meter the forum for contemporary art PFERD invigorates the city periphery. The gentrification of urban “nonplaces” through colonization by art is an internationally observable phenomenon. But the term no longer really applies to the surroundings of the thoroughly revitalized former gas containers. The student dormitory base 11, dominated by exposed concrete, managed by Wien Holding, and used by PFERD through the Alumni Association of the University of Applied Arts Vienna for events that resonate with the younger audience in particular, had already existed. But the generously dimensioned building still lacked identity and life. About ten times a year, since the opening exhibition “I believe I’m entering an art space” in 2015, the auditorium and other spaces including individual rooms have been filled with temporary production and event formats from young artists and curators. The works of predominantly emerging artists are staged to fullest effect in an ambience of cool concrete. “What makes us special is the fantastic commitment of the people here. Until now we’ve done without subsidies. The principle that everyone helps everyone holds here!” explain PFERD founders Matthias Bildstein and Matthias Krinzinger, speaking also for Leander Schönweger, the third founding member. Special features of PFERD: Open Studio Bar, table tennis tournaments, archery, treasure hunts, and film screenings.

Summary: Because mere exhibition-making, even in established art institutions, no longer lures anyone off the couch, Vienna’s alternative spaces focus increasingly on cross-border programs. Hip locations in interesting urban locations hardly prove to their detriment.

Text by Maria Christine Holter:

Maria Christine Holter is a Vienna-based art historian, curator and developer of art programs specialized in contemporary art. She consults companies and has published widely on art.

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