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WHW members Nataša Ilić, Ivet Ćurlin, and Sabina Sabolović. Photo: Damir Žižić.

Zagreb-Based Collective What, How & for Whom to Lead Vienna’s Kunsthalle Wien

The Kunsthalle Wien in Vienna has announced that the Croatian curatorial collective What, How & for Whom (WHW) will take the helm of the institution following director Nicolaus Schafhausen’s departure. Citing the “resurgence of nationalist politics in Austria,” Schafhausen revealed that he was stepping down from his post, three years before his contract was due to expire, in a public letter published in May 2018. The German curator has since joined the Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism in Munich.

Established by Ivet Ćurlin, Nataša Ilić, Sabina Sabolović, and Ana Dević in 1999, WHW organizes various productions, exhibitions, and publishing projects and has directed Gallery Nova in Zagreb, Croatia, for more than fifteen years. While the group will continue to function as a quartet, only Ćurlin, Ilić, and Sabolović will share the directorship of the museum. Dević will continue to run WHW’s projects in Zagreb.

“This is the first time the Kunsthalle Wien has been run by a collective,” city councilor Veronica Kaup-Hasler said in a statement. “Vienna is fortunate to have gained these competent, experienced showmakers for the Kunsthalle. They will re-think, develop, and open the house as a place for contemporary art, discourse, and reflection. I am looking forward to threefold power, desire, joy, ideas, creativity, and visions.”

WHW was formed following the Croatian War of Independence, which was fought from 1991 to 1995. In an interview with X-tra in 2010, the group said the cultural scene at the time was “characterized by bureaucratic sluggish-ness and conceptual disorientation” and added that they felt more aligned with the “civil scene,” eco/punk/hardcore/anarcho groups and movements, rather than the system of arts institutions.

The collective took its name from the three fundamental questions that economists claim every government must be able to answer—“What to produce?” “How to produce?” and “For whom to produce?”—which also formed the title of their first project in 2000 on the Communist Manifesto. They continue to apply these questions to the planning of exhibitions and the production and distribution of artworks.

“We are uncomfortable with the inherent belief that Western neo-liberal capitalism is the only solution for post-socialistic maladies, and that the construction of (new) national identity is the only defense against globalization,” WHW told X-tra. “These concerns have, in various ways, found expressions in our curatorial practice.”

Among the collective’s numerous projects are “On the Shoulders of Fallen Giants” (2018), the Second Industrial Art Biennial, Croatia; the David Maljković retrospective “Again and Again” (2016) at the Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova, Ljubljana, Slovenia; “Really Useful Knowledge” (2014) at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; “Hungry Man, Reach for the Book. It Is a Weapon” (2010) at Printed Matter, New York; and “What Keeps Mankind Alive?” (2009), the Eleventh International Istanbul Biennial. The group also curated the Croatian pavilion at the Fifty-Fourth Venice Biennale in 2011.

Commenting on their new role, WHW said: “We are delighted to have the opportunity of collectively directing Kunsthalle Wien. This is the twentieth anniversary of our collaborative work and a great moment for us to take on the challenge of running such an esteemed and vital institution for Vienna and internationally.”

“We plan to program the forthcoming activities with a close eye on and strong commitment to Vienna as a place for artists and public, and as a unique urban context in the center of Europe. In this geography and at this moment in time, we see a major responsibility on us to use the institution as a place to meet, discuss, and exchange different opinions about art and the future of society.”

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