Art in Vienna:

JUST RIGHT - viennacontemporary 2015

Interview with Christina Steinbrecher-Pfandt
September 24, 2015


The first contemporary art fair in Vienna began in the spring of 2005. For the next 10 years it took place at different time in spring and  autumn at the Messe Prater in Vienna's 2nd district. After numerous changes in its artistic direction and restructuring of its management, a new shift took place this year in connection with the fair’s location to Marx Halle in the 3rd district. The name also changed from Vienna Fair to viennacontemporary.

Christina Steinbrecher-Pfandt has been the fair’s artistic director since 2012.
We met her half an hour before the official opening to talk about her impressions and vision for the fair of contemporary art in Vienna.

viennacontemporary 2015

Marie – Therese Mundigler: After many months of intense work, how do you feel about viennacontemporary on the day of its opening? What are your first impressions?

Christina Steinbrecher-Pfandt: I see many happy faces, both of gallerists' and visitors', and that is the best thing I could expect from the first evening. 

MTM: What has the fair gained in its new location, considering it's not as easily accessible as when it was at the Prater?

CSP: Well, I think it is easily accessible, people just aren't used to coming here. You can get here by tram, by bus or by tube. We even have a shuttle  running between the underground metro station (Schlachthausgasse) and Marx Halle.
What it has gained? I think, it has gained a lot of atmosphere. You come in and it just feels right. I can't even explain it, but people are telling me that it feels like we should have always been here and this is where we have to be.

Ewa Stern: That's the feeling we had.

CSP: I can rationalise it and say there is more daylight, that's why it looks better, but actually it's just the feeling you get. We should have always been here.

viennacontemporary 2015

MTM: What are you particularly proud of achieving?

CSP: My team and I are really proud of doing a very good job uptil now. We have changed locations, we have changed the name, and that meant we not only had to inform all our clients, exhibitors, collectors and partners, but also explain why. So it took a lot of communication.

Our reasons are very transparent - there is no subjectivity here. We knew that for the fair to grow we need to pick a date that works. One should not forget that we are working professionally on an international level. It was hard and it was a lot of work. Sure it is natural to be afraid of changes. However, at the end of the day staying in your own comfort zone, is not a possible solution.

We believe that this city is a great place for an international art fair of excellence. Full stop. And then you work on it, no matter how difficult it is, or how many obstacles you have to overcome, because that's just what you need to do. I think people that come here see we worked really hard and they appreciate it. We made the right, rational decision and stand by it. That is something I'm very proud of.

viennacontemporary 2015

MTM: What audience does viennacontemporary cater to?

CSP: Firstly, we do it for the galleries that participate and for their potential target audience. We have 1/3 Austrian galleries, 1/3 Eastern European, and 1/3 from other parts of the world at the fair. Secondly, we do it for the city and its citizens'. We have a very broad program for seniors, students and families. We also offer a very sophisticated program for people who are interested in culture - visitors from abroad as well as local visitors. We try to include them through our Talks program that we offer daily at the fair. And lastly we have an extensive program for collectors, which includes guided tours and various social events. We care very much about the level of service that we deliver, because it is what really makes you stand out. We try to cater to these different groups of people and I think that it is widely appreciated. 

We will also continue our young collector's project, where those who plan to start collecting can learn and get tips from those who are already established. You can also come to us and say: "I do not have much money to spend, can you help me?" Yes, we can and that's why we are here. Our staff is well trained and very helpful. It's not about how big your budget is - we are here to help.

viennacontemporary 2015

ŻAK | BRANICKA Gallery, viennacontemporary 2015

ES: So let's say I would like to buy some art, but have a limited budget, what should I do?

CSP: We have a visitor desk and there you can ask for help to find what you are looking for. Someone from the educational department will ask you about what you are interested in or what it is you would like to have. We also offer tours for different interests groups, with guides who have been working with us for the last few years. They are well educated and informed. I would suggest taking one of these tours to orientate yourself, and find out what you might like.

ES: Could you tell us more about Pushkin Art School guides?

CSP: These are young people between the age of 13 to 18, who are tour guides. They are extraordinarily professional, very passionate about art and willing to share their passion. They will offer do tours for visitors of the same age, but also for adults. I think that it is a very interesting perspective to be showed around by someone much younger than you. It might feel strange, but then when it comes to technology it's quite normal that kids are more tech savvy than their parents. In this case it might be exactly the same.

ES: It kind of reflects the times we live in.

MTM: This year the country in focus is Bulgaria. What positions are you particularly excited about?

CSP: I love the drawings of Nedko Solakov - but I'm not the only one I guess - everyone loves the drawings of Nedko Solakov. And then there is an artist Pravdoliub Ivanov, whose works one should definitely come and see.

Pravdoliub Ivanov Tools, 2013 B&W photo, newspaper, printed paper

Pravdoliub Ivanov Tools, 2013 B&W photo, newspaper, printed paper © Pravdoliub Ivanov

MTM: What emerging trends do you see? What should one pay attention to in your opinion?

CSP: There are two things. One is not new, but I think one should definitely look out for the videos. We have even formalised it this year by creating a cinema that shows an extensive program of films and videos everyday. We felt that it deserves its proper place as opposed to being on a small screen in a bright room with noise all around, a quiet place where one can watch the artworks without being disturbed or distracted.
The other interesting trend is artist collaboration. I see more and more artists working together using many forms and different media. I find it very interesting and something one should pay more attention to.


MTM: As an art director what is your biggest achievement?

CSP: This is the 4th year that I'm the art director of this fair. When we started in 2012, I initiated the format of Focus countries. Even though the focus of the fair has been on Eastern European countries since the beginning there was still a wall between the East and West. People didn't know each other. There were many galleries from Eastern Europe who were participating in the fair for years, but they didn't know many Austrians. So with the Focus we started guided tours, talks, and engaging people with each other. We trained our guides to leave their comfort zone, of what they know, taking a leap and help educating people about Eastern European art. Through our initiative people got so engaged and excited about art from this region that they actually then travelled to Poland, Georgia or Romania, wanting to see more and making new contacts.

MTM: And what is your vision for the ViennaContemporary?

CSPMy vision for the future, or rather my wish would be that everybody sold out in the first evening of the fair and would have to exhibit something new the next day. That would be very exciting!
On the other hand, I would like to attract more American collectors. That is my true goal, to bring more of them here. There are already some that come here regularly, but for some reason the majority do not have Vienna on their map. That's what I'm working on. As this is not just about making a fair it is also about getting into the flow that things are moving internationally. I hope that the new fixed dates at the end of September will help us achieve this goal. 

ES: Well, we wish you just that. Thank you for your time and best of luck!

viennacontemporary 2015 takes place from 24 till 27 September at the Marx Halle in 3rd District. More info

viennacontemporary 2015

All photos unless marked otherwise by Ewa Stern © 2015


Marx Halle
Karl-Farkas-Gasse 19
Vienna 1030