Candy Shop

Naomi Lev at viennacontemporary

Left: viennacontemporary artistic director Christina Steinbrecher-Pfandt with viennacontemporary managing director Renger van den Heuvel. Right: Dealer Gregor Podnar and viennacontemporary board chair Dmitry Aksenov.

ON FRIDAY MORNING, everyone arrived utterly exhausted—yet somehow still intact. “In Vienna we live as people aspire to: We drink mineral water from tap, we swim in drinking-water-quality lakes, and we don’t have to talk about organic, because all of our products are raised in farms around Vienna. Plus, it is available to everyone, not only to the top 1 percent,” said the fair’s artistic director, Christina Steinbrecher-Pfandt, “However, people see Vienna as old and opera, and are not truly aware of the quality of contemporary culture here.”

VC is a serious vehicle for rebranding Vienna as a contemporary city; over the weekend several professionals mentioned that this was their common goal. And indeed, the current fair brings a quality selection of local and international contemporary art. With 112 galleries from twenty-eight countries, it marked the fair’s second year at architect Rudolf Frey’s spacious (and well-lit) Marx Halle.

My personal tour guide for the day was curator and art historian Nico Anklem: a bright German who apparently knows the fair’s ins and outs—as well as its leading figures. At our first stop: “Zone 1”—solo shows by local galleries—we met with Salvatore Viviano. “If you know him,” Anklem said of Viviano, “You will know everyone.” A performance artist, ex-movie star, and current One Work Gallery director, the Italian native opened a two-hundred-square-foot space in 2014. “The gallery is always open,” he said: The lights stay on and all exhibited work can be observed from the street. Even more notable: The venue presents only one work per exhibition, hung on a single wall (that is also used as the gallery office’s shelving system). During the fair’s five-day run, artists Phillipp Fleischmann, Bert Loschner, Christoph Meier, Ute Muller, Sarah Pichlkostner, and Stefan Reiterer each exhibited a work a day. Friday was Pichlkostner’s turn—she showed a minimalistic metal piece resembling a non-functioning faucet.

Left: Curator Diana Campbell Betancourt with artist Rafiqul Shuvo and Carbon 12 dealer Nadine Knotzer (Photo: Kate Sutton). Right: Dealers Delphine Telesio di Toritto and Salvatore Viviano with curator Nico Anklam.

Nearby, in the “Reflections” section, dealer Emanuel Layr shared a booth with Croy Nielsen, who relocated from Berlin to Vienna. Was it a trend? Other Berlin galleries, like Gallery Crone and Beck & Eggeling, have opened Vienna spaces, while new galleries such as Galerie Nathalie Halgand pop up. A few dealers cited Germany’s stiff new export laws as one factor; others just gave shout outs to Vienna’s status as a melting pot and up-and-coming market. In the meantime, dealer Martin Janda was in the midst of talking sales with Italian collector Luca G. Castellani, who seemed pleased with Nilbar Güreş twill piece, later assuring us that sales are going fine.

How to make a booth truly unique? Talk to Paulina Bebecka, director of Postmasters—the only US gallery participating in the fair. Bebecka studied at Sotheby’s London alongside Steinbrecher-Pfandt, and now (“after years of wooing her,” as Steinbrecher-Pfandt put it) they finally decided to collaborate. The gallery’s very impressive installation of small-scale sculptures started as a project Bebecka initially curated in the US. It recently traveled to Istanbul before heading to the fair. Bringing political and social strands to the fair’s discourse, thirty-two mini-sculptures, each by a different artist, were beautifully arranged on a site-specific stagelike structure. There was a rousing piece by outsider artist John Byam; text work by Laurence Weiner, translated into the language of every country the mini-show visited; and a sugar boat by Xu Wang that paid homage to Chinese street-sculpture traditions.

Fresh air was in order. At the VIP room, artist Tjorg Douglas Beer not only proved to be a pro at mingling, but turned out to be quite familiar with the VIP’s secret backdoor entrance. After posing in a series of photos, smoking a “tzigi” (he says it’s the Swiss slang for cigarette), and talking about his recent move to Greece, we rolled back into the fair for some serious discourse.

Left: Dealers Emanuel Layr and Hennrikke Nielsen. Right: Artist Shubigi Rao and critic Bharti Lalwani.

With one-third of the fair’s exhibiting galleries from Eastern Europe, VC sees itself as a specialized arena for Eastern European art—a growing market. “Focus: Ex-Yugoslavia and Albania,” curated by the Albanian Adela Dmetja, featured mostly nonprofit galleries from Albania, Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, and Macedonia. The space, organized as a group show, excludes hierarchy. Serbian artist Slobodan Stošic explained: “To combine all of these galleries and works as a mix—we are not divided into any nationality, only the names of artists are written down next to the work with pencil, which is very important because this is one of the problems of how art functions today. It has this colonial pressure. Many artists are trying to break from their roots to not be categorized. This is the trouble and also the hegemony of the art market.” A standout work—a glossy pink flag with the text A WORKER WHO CANNOT SPEAK ENGLISH IS NO WORKER—caught my eye. The piece is made by Macedonian artist Nada Prlja, a seriously interesting lady whose gallery, Serious Interests Agency, is the only nongovernmental supported art space in Macedonia.

Speaking of interesting ladies, curator Abaseh Mirvali was commissioned to create solo and dual-artist mini-shows in the “Solo Expanded” section of the fair. There, Thomas Fischer’s booth contained works by Seiichi Furuya, who creates poetic and contemplative moments in image and text. As Furuya was sharing a peculiar story about a boat he photographed in Dresden, later to find out that Kim Jong-un was on board, Anklem spotted the man who has made VC possible, founder of RDI and VC chairman Dmitry Aksenov. At that point we were becoming quite exhausted, and it was a miracle when Alexander Müller-Vivil, a man who refers to himself as a “candy-maker,” gave us a very refreshing mint, apparently from his own brand of sweets, Vivil. Will we be so lucky at Frieze?

Left: TBA21’s Sophie Bayerlein, Clemens Rettenbacher, Christine Böhler, and Frederike Sperling. Right: Curator Abaseh Mirvali, Wiels director Dirk Snauwaert, Serralves deputy director Joao Ribas, and writer Kate Sutton.

Left: Dealers Elisabeth Konrath and Martin Janda. Right: Dealers Li Tasser and Julian Inic.

Left: Dealer Thomas Fischer and artist Seiichi Furuya. Right: Artist Tjorg Douglas Beer.

Left: Collector Peter Goldscheider. Right: Dealer Christine Konig.

Left: Artists Milan Nesic and Šok Zadruga. Right: Artist Stefan Seva with dealers Diana Ursan and Marian Ivan.

Left: Kerstin Engholm Galerie director Anna Ebner. Right: Dealers Joana Grevers and Guy K. Williamson.

Left: Postmasters’s Paulina Bebecka. Right: Artist and Serious Interest Agency founder Nada Prlja.