At times, it can feel as though a transparent membrane separates the rest of the art world from Vienna: a city with a predilection for collecting and promoting Austrian art, yet with a dearth of young galleries. Hence the significance of curated by_vienna, an annual ‘curatorial festival’ launched in 2009 by Departure, Vienna Business Agency’s creative department. The event pairs international curators with the city’s galleries to mount shows reacting to a theme proposed by an invited theorist, curator or academic.
This year, 19 participating galleries responded to a commissioned essay, ‘Meine Herkunft habe ich mir selbst ausgedacht’ (My Origins? I Made Them Up), by Diedrich Diederichsen, the German cultural theorist, journalist and critic, who teaches at Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts. His text raises questions around how the work of contemporary artists connects to artistic tradition. Do young artists look to overthrow their Oedipal elders or do they seek inspiration and endorsement from established mentors? Diederichsen suggests that many artists today adopt art-historical ‘role models’ to add credibility to contemporary practices.
The curators of this year’s festival responded variously to Diederichsen’s cue. Bangladesh was the focus of ‘You Cannot Cross the Sea Merely by Staring at the Waves’, a group show at Krinzinger Projekte of 11 young artists from that country – a place where, in the words of curator Diana Campbell Betancourt, ‘culture and religion are increasingly at odds’. Teenage rebellion was the driving spirit of Dirk Schönberger’s ‘Jugendzimmer’ (literally, a teenager’s room) at Crone Wien – with works by Cosima von Bonin, Collier Schorr and Rosemarie Trockel, among others. For her group exhibition ‘Winter Is Coming (Homage to the Future)’ at Georg Karl Fine Arts, Tallinn-based Maria Arusoo looked to our ‘dystopian present’ while exploring the possibility of invented communities in an age of xenophobia and scepticism regarding the future.
One particular highlight was to be found at Galerie Krobath, where Hamburger Kunstverein director Bettina Steinbrügge’s engrossing group exhibition included a screening of Man Ray’s mesmerizing 1926 black and white surrealist film Emak Bakia (Basque for ‘Leave Us Alone’). Two of the show’s historical artists – Henri Michaux and Nasreen Mohamedi – established modernist vocabularies for their successors: Vienna-based Danish artist Sofie Thorsen and Berlin-based Haleh Redjaian. On display were two heady, broad-stroked drawings (Mouvements, Movements, 1951), made by Michaux under the influence of mescaline. Similarly vacillating between geometric precision and artisanal irregularity, Redjaian’s ‘drawings’, such as Untitled (C_XX) (2014), comprise parallel lines of thread strung through handmade Persian textiles or hung from nails on the gallery walls. Thorsen’s Whose Sleeves? (2016) – three small canvases atop a wall drawing – uses parallel lines percussively, linking eastern and western modernism in the vein of Mohamedi’s work.
At Galerie Martin Janda, curator Jacopo Crivelli Visconti addressed our volatile times in ‘The Winter of our Discontent’. The eight featured artists presented works with ‘negative references’ to express their discontent at the current political status quo and to incite action. For instance, Pedro Neves Marques’s GMO are the Direct Evolution of Botanical Expeditions to the Colonies throughout Modern Times and I Will Convince You of It (2016) is an oversize Monsanto stewardship agreement as wallpaper, partially covered in black and white posters of plants. Ahlam Shibli’s Arab al-Sbaih (2007) explores displacement in photographs of interiors and landscapes of a Palestinian village unrecognized by Israel. Maria Loboda’s Medoc with 27 Sleeping Pills (2016) lethalizes the simple act of drinking red wine, while her installation A Guide to Insults and Misanthropy (2006) uses floriography, or the cryptography of flowers, to covertly taunt.
At Emanuel Layr, New York-based curator Kari Rittenbach’s ‘Fieber/Fever’ lamented the canon’s ‘chokehold’ (in the press release) over contemporary art production. The lively, three-woman exhibition looked to the idea of ‘heat’ – as Rittenbach posits, a fever must be allowed to run its course. Lisa Holzer’s series of paintings (‘Not Yet Titled’, 2016) look as though the artist has spilled milk or spread brownish mush on the canvases and left them to ‘sweat’ under the glass of the frames. Lena Henke’s sand and ceramic sculptures (‘Female Fatigue’ , 2015–16), installed on sharp metal pedestals or hung on walls, read as hot female body parts forced onto cold stainless steel. More meditative are Margaret Raspé’s series of 30-second films, shot between 1971 and 1983, in which she records her daily activities (washing, cooking, making art) using a helmet camera.
This year’s curated by_vienna prompted a range of richly differentiated responses that rendered the event superior to the more uniform incarnations of the past. In the conclusion of his essay, Diederichsen suggests an alternative to artists’ approaches to constructing ‘origins’: namely, viewing today’s artistic practices as a precursor to new, collective organizational forms. Vienna’s art community sometimes struggles to look forward and outward, but this event succeeded in consciously opening a portal to broader networks and revealed how, today, exchanges perhaps have even greater relevance than ‘origins’.
Lead image: ‘Jugendzimmer’, 2016, curated by Dirk Schönberger, exhibition view, Crone Wien, Vienna. Courtesy: Crone Wien