THE LATE JOHN BERGER once declared that “the opposite of love is not to hate but to separate. If love and hate have something in common it is because, in both cases, their energy is that of bringing and holding together—the lover with the loved, the one who hates with the hated. Both passions are tested by separation.”
Kunsthalle Wien director Nicolaus Schafhausen invoked Berger’s words last Wednesday at the inaugural convening of the weekend-long opening for “How to Live Together,” a sprawling group exhibition bringing and holding together artists including Bas Jan Ader, Kader Attia, Goshka Macuga, Adam Pendleton, Yvonne Rainer, Wolfgang Tillmans, and Rosemarie Trockel. The weekend also marked the launch of Community College, a season-spanning public program capped by a keynote conversation among Schafhausen and curators Vanessa Joan Müller and Chris Dercon.
Dercon made for an odd choice to lecture on striking professional accord, given the controversy surrounding his recent appointment at the helm of Volksbühne Berlin. Last week, Dercon unveiled his programming for the venerable theater, including plans to ring in the new season offsite at Berlin’s beleaguered Tempelhof Airport. Raising even more eyebrows was a roster that eschewed more traditional stage pieces in favor of performances from artists and choreographers such as Boris Charmatz, Jérôme Bel, Alexandra Bachzetsis, Calla Henkel & Max Pitegoff, and Tino Seghal. This list struck critics as an unwelcome shift toward running one of the city’s rare public theaters like one of its many, many public art institutions.
But living together isn’t the same as always agreeing with one another, as the exhibition’s multiday kickoff would demonstrate. Even the opening speeches—typically tepid affairs—didn’t escape confrontation. Things began civilly enough. Clad in one of artist Ayzit Bostan’s signature T-shirts (branded with the Arabic translation of “Imagine Peace”), Schafhausen greeted the crowd with the usual warm words about art’s imperative in these challenging times before handing the mic to the evening’s presiding politician, Andreas Mailath-Pokorny, Vienna’s executive city councilor for cultural affairs, science, and sports. (“This is the same guy who ran TBA21 out of town,” a friend divulged.) Confessing that he hadn’t prepared remarks, Mailath-Pokorny proceeded to try to put contemporary art in its place, curbing the ambitions so eloquently laid out by Schafhausen.
“We have this German saying about how a shoemaker should stick to making shoes,” curator Stefanie Hessler whispered. “He’s basically citing that to argue that artists should stick to just making art and stay out of politics, using Jonathan Meese as an example.” Schafhausen shot back with the claim that art can act in ways that politics cannot. The two continued to spar, passing the mic back and forth as the crowd looked on in disbelief, occasionally erupting into fits of frenzied clapping, only to immediately fall silent again. It was like watching one of those football matches where there’s a lot of admirable footwork, but no one gets the ball past midfield. “It’s almost as if it was scripted,” Hessler marveled.
If it was staged, Schafhausen certainly gave himself the better lines. Having secured the last word, the curator strode toward his exhibition like a prizefighter, approving shoulder pats materializing from the crowd as he passed. Meanwhile, I noticed Ursula Krinzinger making a beeline for Mailath-Pokorny, who clearly had another round or two in store. “He shouldn’t have started on Meese like that,” the formidable dealer explained later.
“How to Live Together” filled both floors of the Kunsthalle’s exhibition space, with more than two dozen expansive bodies of works, including a deconstructed restaging of Gelitin’s 2013 exhibition at Berlin’s Schinkel Pavillon.
“When I was first thinking about the concept, I wanted to see what would happen if you put ten solo exhibitions together in a room,” Schafhausen recounted. When I first thought of the concept, I got stuck on its similarity to “How to Gather,” the 2015 edition of the Moscow Biennale that Schafhausen cocurated with Bart De Baere and Defne Ayas. Despite some shared artists, Vanessa Joan Müller contested any overlap: “Gathering and living together are two very different things.”
I wanted to agree, but in practice the exhibition focused more on the former, with roll calls and rosters constituting the show’s central motif. The standout two-screen sampling of Aslan Gaisumov’s videos hinged on the very notion of bringing people together, filling first a ballroom and then a Volga. Paul Graham’s series Beyond Caring surveyed the grim reality of 1980s-era waiting rooms for Britain’s social services, while Mohamed Bourouissa’s searing photographs of disenfranchised youth of Paris hung jarringly beside the camp staging of Tina Barney’s The Europeans. Herlinde Koelbl’s serial portraits of Angela Merkel upstairs were a crowd favorite, while in the ground floor gallery her recent images of refugee camps shared a wall with selections from August Sander’s People of the 20th Century.
While there were portraits aplenty, few offered much insight into how to get by, let alone get along. Exceptions included Binelde Hyrcan’s Cambeck, 2010, a two-and-a-half-minute video depicting four young boys plopped into holes in the sand of a Luanda beach. Pretending they’re in a limousine, the kids speak candidly of getting away from Angola, one to join his successful father in the States, another boasting of “a wife in Italy.” Taus Makhacheva’s 19 a Day, 2014, experiments with other forms of social camouflage by having the artist crash nineteen weddings in one day. Casual snapshots show her blithely smiling alongside each bride and groom, who pose politely with their presumed guest.
One work not interested in coexistence was Augustas Serapinas’s Sigi, a behemoth sculpture of a cat crowning the Kunsthalle Wien. It was modeled after a crudely rendered figurine that the institution’s chief financial officer, Sigrid “Sigi” Mittersteiner, had rescued from a trash pile outside an elementary school a few years back. Serapinas had brought the actual sculpture to the exhibition, toting it around in a paper sack that struck the latent soccer mom in me as woefully underinsulated. “Are you sure the cat’s okay in there?” I asked. The artist shrugged, smiling down at the bag, “I guess we have a bit of a Schrödinger situation.” I wondered if human-Sigi would find that punch line as amusing.
I followed Serapinas to the dinner upstairs, where I joined Krinzinger, Hyrcan, Galerie Crone’s Andreas Osarek, artist Armin Linke, and Kunsthalle Wien’s Italian transplant, Luca lo Pinto. The curator happened to be scrolling through his phone as I sat down, and I noticed the name Gus Van Sant flash at the top of his screen. “Showing off your contacts?” I teased. “No,” he smiled. “It’s an app. You input the name you want and set a time when you want them to call you. It can be essential for getting through some of these dinners in Vienna. Watch.” Lo Pinto set his phone on the table. Within two minutes, Slavoj Žižek was calling.
Lo Pinto may have mastered the city’s existing social nuances, but Vienna’s art world is rapidly adapting to a fresh curriculum, with an influx of outfits such as Croy Nielsen (who relocated from Berlin to a bel étage flat in the former Palais Dumba last December) and Ermes Ermes (who moved from Rome in March) coinciding with an explosion of adventurous new spaces—among them, Gianni Manhattan, Laura Windhager’s spirited outpost in the third district; Cordova, an apartment operation from Jupiter Wood’s cofounder Cory Scozzari; Vin Vin, former orchestra conductor Vincenzo della Corte’s first district showcase; Kevin Space, a self-styled kunstverein not far from the Augarten; KOENIG2, an offshoot of Christine Köenig Galerie, run by director Robby Greif; and Sophie Tappeiner’s debut gallery, directly across the street from scene staple Emanuel Layr.
Tappeiner previously worked as an antiques dealer, honing her curatorial chops by staging contemporary-art interventions among more traditional trappings. For her inaugural exhibition, she recruited curator Barbara Rüdiger to corral a group show “at the intersection of applied arts and contemporary arts.” The accent on primary materials—from Jala Wahid’s sensual, Vaseline-infused vases and Liesl Raff’s oversize welded dog tags to a selection of ceramics from Wiener Werkstätte’s Vally Wieselthier and a human stencil on loan from the Kiki Kogelnik Foundation—meant that some of the works weren’t for sale.
“There’s plenty of funding available for nonprofits right now, which reduces the risk in opening one,” Tappeiner told me. “But that money completely disappears the moment you start to incorporate any kind of business.” So why gamble with a commercial gallery? “I like long relationships,” Tappeiner admitted. “I like going through difficulties together and really getting to know someone. With project spaces, it’s just one really intense period of maybe a few months and then that’s it. That’s also why I wanted to work with artists of my generation, so we can really be co-collaborators in the process.”
Windhager might agree. Under the watchful eye of her two gallery-dwelling whippets, the enterprising young dealer has positioned Gianni Manhattan as a showcase for emerging talents such as Barbara Kapusta, Nils Alix-Tabeling, and now Simon Mathers. Brandishing another scene-stealing name, Kevin Space now occupies an enviable corner spot on the Volkertmarkt. While the project’s four founders—Franziska Sophie Wildförster, Fanny Hauser, Denise Helene Sumi, and Carolina Nöbauer—chose to keep the sign advertising the building’s previous life (“DRAGON STYLE Young Vienna Fashion”), the group show inside boasted more dolphins than dragons. I was immediately enamored with the windowsill display of Urara Tsuchiya’s glazed earthenware bowl, capturing an intimate coupling of man, dolphin, and their dueling erections, under the winning title Just Close Your Eyes and Imagine I Haven’t Evolved. Across the room a Tamuna Sirbiladze canvas faced off with objects by Justin Fitzpatrick and Zuzanna Czebatul, while an exuberant Sofia Stevi gouache on textile festooned the back corner. The room’s lone column was embraced by the thin ribbon of a pair of arms cut from scarlet-colored satin by Minda Andrén. “Minda is actually still in school, studying with Daniel Richter,” artist Marina Sula told me. “That’s what’s so great about this place: They manage to mix artists who are still in the academy with established painters like Sirbiladze.”
But the best lesson in living together came courtesy of Salvatore Viviano’s One Work Gallery, a storefront on Getreidemarkt, just a block down from the MuseumsQuartier. True to its name, the gallery shows a single piece at a time. “But that doesn’t mean it’s just one artist,” Viviano grinned. “One Two More,” the exhibition that opened last Wednesday, boasts twenty-five artists, all students enrolled in Gelitin members Ali Janka and Tobias Urban’s course at the Art University of Linz. Over a period of four months, the class constructed a cardboard model of the gallery, which they kept locked. Whoever had the key could modify the work in any way they chose, whether that meant reconfiguring, adding, or throwing out various objects, or just ignoring everything and scrawling on the walls.
“Some people stayed in there just a half hour or so, some people worked three days straight,” recalled participant Alexandra Kahl, fast-forwarding through time-lapse footage on her smartphone. When the team re-created the final installation in One Work Gallery, they added the sidewalk component of a long timber beam embedded with some of the discarded elements, including one of the curling pink cattle horns from Janka’s opening assemblage. “The best thing about this project is that nothing gets truly thrown away,” Janka beamed. “Everything finds its place somewhere.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.