By ANDREW COURT, SEPT. 2016
Under an hours drive from Bratislava and the old iron curtain, Vienna has long been a frontier town. In 2014 the border was stormed from the East. As reported by ArtNet News, Vienna Fair was rebranded Viennacontemporary after a large investment from Russian real estate mogul Dmitry Aksenov. The now two year old Viennacontemporary showcases Eastern European artists alongside their Western and Asian peers, creating a dialog that crosses divides. The airy and industrial Marx Halle venue that houses the fair reinforces the feeling that one is at a meeting point. Despite a Eurocentric perspective, Viennacontemporary delivers an unexpected and engaging experience.
As part of the Eastern European theme, the Focus subsection of the fair draws attention to Albanian and Ex-Yugoslavian artists. Albanian artist Lumturi Blloshmi, represented by the Tirana Art Lab, navigates between the artistic history and future of her country. Adela Demetja, Director of the Tirana Art Lab, says Blloshmi, born in 1944, is one of the few artists of her generation to break free from the social realism of the Communist era and impact contemporary Albanian art. Blloshmi’s performance and photography piece Menu Kamasutra is about as far from Social Realism as one can get. A series of photographs of frog legs cooking in Kamasutra positions, Menu Kamasutra finds humor after decades of repression inside a male dominated power structure.
Prominent Russian artists are at home across the fair. A representative of Moscow’s Regina Gallery greeted guests at their booth with “Off course you have heard of Pavel Pepperstein…” While Mr. Pepperstein is currently trying his hand a rap music, several of his acrylic on canvas works are shown. The Faun and the Nymph, depicting a wizened faun mounting a nubile nymph, directly addresses the East-West divide. With the Greek myth inspired title painted on the canvas in both English and Russian, there is no need for translation. Hanging around the faun’s neck is a small shell, perhaps symbolizing the fertility found in mating of old and new ideas.
Plenty of local Austrian talent is also on display in Vienna. Artist Evelyn Loschy’s “Under Destruction” Solo exhibition with Galerie Michael Stock presents kinetic sculptures alongside performance, video, and photography. After studying art in Amsterdam and Berlin, Loschy says she eventually learned when “to not give a fuck” about what here professors and peers thought. For Loschy, her time in Amsterdam taught her to break free from the “research, research, research” model of Viennese arts. She spent months at a time in a basement at work, leaving friends wondering what happened to her.
One of Loschy’s more provoking pieces is her auto destructive kinetic sculpture Is It Me. The piece consists of a clear inflatable figure in a rocking chair formed from a custom metallic structure. Powered by wiper motors, the work rocks back and forth while inflating itself through the same motion. Two cycles are at play, the inflation and disinflation of the figure, and the rocking of the chair. Loschy says some viewers find it comic, others see it as sad. While focusing the dialogue on the viewers experience, When pressed Loschy expresses that the work gives her dark feelings. For the gallery, “The harmless motion of rocking, having a pleasant and relaxing effect on the human body, becomes a gruesome mechanism of inescapability.” For this writer, the work brought back sharp and painful memories of a father wasting away from cancer.
Taiwanese artist Chen I-Chun’s solo exhibition titled “Do You Dream of Electric Sheep?” at the Liang Gallery booth was an outlier in the Eurocentric scene. The aim of the exhibition is to explore a futuristic world where humans outsource all blue collar work to robots, which in turn become jealous of the life human’s enjoy. The perspective is of an archeologist from a distant galaxy attempting to understand how life on earth perished. Exploring this narrative through mixed media, I-Chun deals with social, class, and environmental tensions. In the 3 minute 6 second video tryptic Perfect Cyborg - Candy 1,2,3 the viewer sees three Japanese cartoon characters from the TV show Candy Cady with their faces removed revealing their inorganic nature. Humanizing technology, the piece asks what is the difference between humans and robots if we all “live on the same circuit.”
Largely the fair succeeds as an outlet for emerging Eastern European artists without excluding the rest of the art world. While dominated by Russian influence, visitors to the fair do not sense any cultural hegemony. Kira Roeloffs von Hademstorf, Director at META Gallery Monaco, feels “a new wave of creativity is on display, this space and town are magical”. WM
Andrew Court is a writer and videographer based in Monaco. Previously Andrew covered local news for NY1 and the United Nations for CNN International. Admitted to the art world as his gallerist wife's plus one, he endeavors to look, listen, and learn. Andrew studied political science and History at the University of St. Andrews and NYU. In his free time, Andrew is a passionate motorcyclist, skier, and documentary film buff. Follow him at http://monacoamerican.blogspot.comview all articles from this author