Since its inception in 2015, “vienna- contemporary” has managed to establish itself as an international fair and Austria’s figurehead of the contemporary art market. Nevertheless, the repercussions of recent months are also fairly evident. Yet, what some might perceive as uncertain and problematic, represents an exciting new opportunity for artistic director Johanna Chromik. After last year’s success – in particular with new “Special Projects” Zone1, Explorations and NSK – she had high hopes for her second year as artistic director. Once she had found her footing, the format of the fair was to be further refined and its presence in the city emphasised. Nevertheless, Chromik perceives the unexpected challenges she has been faced with this year as an opportunity to advance digitisation in the art world. Over the past few months, she and her team have managed not only to “catch up” on a number of issues, but also developed new formats that will serve as a “counterpart to phy- sical space” at this year’s fair and thus be presented online.
Following the cancellation of the physical Art Basel - Hong Kong, a first step towards the virtual opening of a local trade fair was already taken in March with the introduction of special “Online Viewing Rooms”. A digital extension is also being designed for “viennacontemporary”, which will go “hand in hand” with the re-launch of its very own online magazine. Further events such as talk shows will take place simultaneously - in the physical as well as digital sphere. But what does a digital platform that can be accessed globally implicate for a local fair? “vienna contemporary” is characterised by its “European regionality” - “above all the presence of the Viennese and Austrian galleries and our partner galleries from Central and Eastern Europe shape the distinct profile of the fair,” says Chromik. The digital extensions now open up new worlds: “Digital platforms are a good and important addition to getting to know each other - even for those who are staying at home this year. The art sector and business with it are based on direct exchange, mutual trust and a passion for art”, but “at the end of the day, personal encounters and the immediate experience of art remain decisive for us”.
According to Johanna Chromik, the art world quickly recovered from the initial shock of the lockdown and has since established informal networks among galleries and artists. As a result, new creative and exciting experiments have been launched. In recent months, she herself has also taken part in numerous digital tours and discussions - inspiring meetings took place via zoom, for example, over a coffee or a glass of wine. In response to the question of how one can keep one’s finger on the pulse of art despite a lockdown, Chromik refers to platforms such as Not Cancelled, which for instance managed to provide an online presence to “Vienna Art Week”, as well as the initiative galleryplatform.la, in which 81 Los Angeles art galleries have joined forces to collectively exhibit their works online.
Apart from the digital changes, Chromik does not yet want to reveal too much about this year’s programme and gallery line-up: “We are in the final stages. Let it be said that there will definitely be (re)discoveries and established greats”. On a personal level, she is already very much looking forward to the various concepts put together by the new curators: “Cathrin Mayer for Zone1, our section with exciting solo shows of artists under 40 who have strong ties to Austria; Jen Kratochvil for video - an intriguing selection of artistic short films - and Elisa R. Linn & Lennart Wolff at Explorations, a poignant presentation of works by various galleries in Europe”.
The fact that valuable ideas can emerge from crises was proven as early as 1919 by the Bauhaus, which originated from the industrialisation of its post-war years and whose basic principles continue to exist over a hundred years later in contemporary design, art and architecture. Johanna Chromik is already excited about the works that have been created in the studios in recent months - especially during the lockdown phase: “Due to the impossibility of travel, openings, social events, and thus the elimination of “distractions”, some artists have certainly produced quite astonishing works that we will see now and in the near future”.