Our editor-at-large, Sonja Borstner, traces projects not to miss during Vienna Art Week 2022
This year’s edition of Vienna Art Week is focused on challenging orders – from political, social, cultural and economic standards to the art canon’s “-isms” and the role of art institutions in general. This approach might be ambitious but all the more relevant in the capital of a country brimming with art historical baggage that still considers itself an empire (“Reich”) – at least in its German version. Engulfing passengers with the world famous Donauwalzer by Johann Sebastian Bach when landing in Vienna with Austria’s former state-owned airline, the city continues to re-animate an image of itself that is oriented more towards the past than to the present. In this very space, revealing what lies below it’s acclaimed décor and backdrops appears to be a particularly crucial task.
Artists have always had an affiliation for scrutinizing precisely this “underneath” through progressive agendas that have challenged acclaimed norms, traditions and commonplaces in their respective generations and times of actions. In Vienna, for instance, a group of artists around Gustav Klimt founded The Association of Visual Artists Vienna Secession in 1897 with the aim of interrupting norms of the time and building new spaces to exhibit progressive tendencies. With an artist-led board that develops their exhibition programme in a collective democratic process, this institution appears to be one of the most important contenders of what writer, social activist and filmmaker Naomi Klein describes as “toxic nostalgia”. For instance, the newly commissioned video work What the Owl Knows (2022) by The Otolith Group – which developed in collaboration with painter and writer Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and is currently on view at Secession – seeks to “frustrate the demand from institutions for biographical explanation.” (1)
Institutional critique is also at the core of the work of The Guerilla Girls – a seminal artist group from New York who show some of their works (such as The Art of Behaving Badly, 1985–2022) at the main exhibition of Vienna Art Week (The House of Challenging Orders). Their famous poster from 1988 The Advantages Of Being A Woman has influenced many generations of artists including Sanja Iveković. The artist and filmmaker, whose work heavily confronts issues of gender norms and politics, is currently on view at Kunsthalle Vienna with the comprehensive retrospective „Works of Heart (1974–2022)“.
Draped in a red blouse – resembling the colour of crumbled papers (Report on Gender-based Violence Against Women Refugees in Austria, 2022) scattered across the floor in Works of Heart – which I selected from a conical pile of clothes to take away towards the end of the exhibition, I continued the course through the city’s multiple art spaces. With this colour at heart, many more works of today’s generation of artists, who embody similar potentials of disruption that not only challenge norms but also the location they are situated in, can be encountered in the city. However, most of them aren’t to be found on the familiar routes but during Vienna’s freezing November nights at the Museumsquartier (using a 2€-coin for a vending machine to receive Miriam Stoney’s beautiful publication All along, the x-axis, 2022); or by climbing up the Artists-in-Residence studios in the same areal (to meet the works by TJ Cuthand or Neil Mendoza’s writing spam cans); or by wandering through the maze of abandoned offices in a soon to be demolished building (The House of Challenging Orders); or by finding the way to a nomadic platform (das weisse haus) inhabiting unused places as long as they last (and to hear from artist Ana de Almeida about the flying dogs in the Austrian feminist magazine Dokumente der Frauen from 1899–1902).
Living in a time where the state of crisis seems to have become another norm, it is the reverberation between these artists’ works which so insistingly remind me that while it might be tempting to linger in yesterday’s nostalgia – especially if tomorrow’s outcome is rather grim and unclear – the sole focus on the past might be the ruin of our future. I’ll be taking the red blouse as a glimpse of a world looking forward with me and keep on searching for the spaces that broaden its view.
(1) Excerpt from a text by The Otolith Group accompanying the exhibition. https://secession.at/ausstellungtheotolithgroupen
Also don’t miss:
Jean-Frédéric Schnyder, The Otolith Group and Patricia L. Boyd at Secession
Niklas Lichti at Emanuel Layr
Lucy Beech at Kunstverein Gartenhaus