Vienna Takes on Two Art Fairs

Aug 27, 2015, 7:57 AM EDT
Emmanuel Bornstein, The Kiss, 2015, Oil on canvas
(Courtesy Galerie Crone, Berlin, Germany / photo Marcus Schneider, Berlin)

This year the directors of Vienna's decade-old Viennafair are taking their show across the canal to Marx Halle - a renovated industrial building in the Neu Marx business district - to re-launch the event as viennacontemporary.

In the new incarnation, the fair has secured the fourth week of September as a fixed slot on the international arts calendar through 2017 - a certainty the organization said it could never secure at its previous location in Reed Messe Wien.

And since Reed Exhibitions has retained ownership of the Viennafair brand, the city will now host two contemporary art fairs back-to-back. Viennafair will follow the new viennacontemporary in the second week of October.

Art fair impresario Wolfgang Pelz, taking the helm of Viennfair this year, said "that it is not primarily about delineation or distinction. We are pleased, that the art market Vienna will enjoy a massive upturn in autumn 2015."

Technically in its debut year with the rebranding, the viennacontemporary fair will feature 99 galleries, 90 percent of which are returning exhibitors from viennafair, such as DIEHL (Berlin and Moscow).

In addition to the expected major Austrian galleries, Fait Gallery from Brno, Czech Republic, joins for the first time this year, and Berlin's Dittrich & Schlechtriem are giving the first edition of viennacontemporary a new chance after a two-year absence. Paris dealers Bernard Bouche and Caroline Smulders will also present for the first time with works by Carlo Guaita, John Murphy, José Pedro Croft, and Tokyo-based artist Kimiko Yoshida.

Steinbrecher-Pfandt added that registered collector attendance has grown 20 percent this year, with most coming from neighboring countries Switzerland, Germany and France.

The fair positions itself as the east-meets-west hub where collectors can get a comprehensive view of the Central and Eastern European art scene, which Steinbrecher-Pfandt thinks is often overlooked.

As in previous editions as Viennafair, the new expo will spotlight a specific country. After Georgia, Poland and Azerbaijan, this year's featured country is Bulgaria, where Steinbrecher-Pfandt says there are a lot of "eager" collectors.

"Bulgaria has an interesting art scene but not much of a gallery scene," she says. "They do a lot out of their own initiatives. Artists in Soviet times were quite free to do their own thing; not as controlled as Russia."

But even in the absence of a robust, organized market, Steinbrecher-Pfandt says there is great potential and interesting work, citing exhibitioner Sariev Contemporary in Plovdiv, whom she says is "driving the art scene there quite a bit."

Reed's Viennafair is actually the new kid on the block whose reputation precedes it by default with an established name and location. The fair maintains a contemporary focus, but finds a little self-reinvention with a new team and this year's launch of the Viennafair Masters component to show classic works. Of the 80 participating galleries, about one third make up the Master's exhibitions that Mr. Pelz says "will close the gap between art trade and galleries for the very first time and contemporary art can tie in with the recent past," Mr. Pelz says.

So, is Vienna a big enough town for two consecutive art fairs? Mr. Pelz parries, "Shouldn't we rather ask: is the interest in art big enough? The answer would be yes."

Viennacontemporary runs September 24-27. Viennafair runs October 8-10.