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Viennafair: Interview with Edek Bartz


This is an Artfacts.Net interview with Edek Bartz, director of the Viennafair.

AfN: Mr Bartz, you worked as musician, DJ, promoter of concerts, director of an art institution, curator, professor and much more. How did you become director of a fair?

Bartz: Last year's summer was long and very hot, and I think that I was chosen just because I was the only one who actually stayed in Vienna at that time! And I had Samuel Keller's haircut; I am sure that this had been a parameter for the job.... - No, your list already shows that my professional life always consisted in organising. I organised very big events, and I have thus always been involved in art projects. I know the scene very well, for many decades now, and I know and have known a lot of artists. I collaborated with them for exhibitions and other projects, and so it seemed quite natural and normal to me to organise an art fair as well.

AfN: Viennafair is now entering in its third edition; so it still is a young child among all those 120 art fairs worldwide. The direction seems quite clear: the fair focusses on important Austrian galleries and on a very strong presence and support of galleries from East-European countries.
Do you think that the profile of Viennafair has thus already reached maturity?

Bartz: When I started as fair director, I asked myself: which purpose does this fair serve? Does Vienna actually need such an event? - And I soon realised that Vienna's strength consisted in its close distance to Eastern Europe, in its possibilty to operate there. This is practically a prolonged arm of our own homeland, and also in historic respects, there have always been a lot of cooperations and economic connections. I have to admit that I hardly knew anything about East-European art when I began to work here. But as I took the job very seriously, I started immediately to intensely study this art, to travel to these countries, to visit numerous galleries and art institutions. And that was the moment when I understood how important the Viennafair is. For those countries and for many artists of those countries, the Viennafair is the first opportunity to present themselves in an international context.

AfN: This is a very good transition to my next question: how would you judge the development of East-European galleries and their exhibits? Did those galleries already find their way into the Western art market?

Bartz: There is a quality improvement noticeable every year. But there are no short and simple answers to these questions - for the following reason: East-European galleries have a long life of suffering behind them: under communism, artists were gagged; they could not really express themselves. Art of the 50s, 60s, 70s was thus still a subcultural scene that was operating mainly in the underground, and was not seen by the public, neither here nor there. A rather bohemian ambience was prevalent. And after the breakdown there was this big gap when they all had to recollect themselves first.
The first galleries and institutions from that era were certainly still charged with this burden, which was in a sense also an aesthetic burden, and for a start, they needed to become independent. That was noticeable at the beginning, but over the years, it became more and more evident how radically fast the scene is changing there; how those artists become increasingly interesting for us, how they are dealing with more international subjects and removing themselves from artificial subjects such as "We are from the East...", etc.; this question is not posed anymore, and what's also noticeable is the fact that they are networked, and that they know what is happening in the world.
When they now come to Vienna, it is neither because they have the permission to travel abroad for the first time nor because they can spend their summer holidays in Vienna - no, they know exactly what is going on. They are highly educated and highly motivated, and I think that this is also something we have to deal with.

AfN: About 100 galleries are represented at this fair; this exhibition hall is full. Can you imagine growing further? Would you want that? And if yes, which direction would this growth take? Would you have the same selection comittee? In view of business competition, will you nevertheless stick to the springtime date?

Bartz: I think that the present scale of the fair should actually remain as it is. It is a manageable scale. I don't think that we should - or must - try to become "super-international" and as "great" as Miami, Basel, Madrid or Paris. What is really important is to further develop our own style and to remember for whom or what we are doing this. Last year, many guests from America and Europe came to Vienna and bought quite a lot. So people are interested in East-European art and, during my numerous visits to other fairs, I always hear: "Yes, we'll come back to Vienna. We want to see what's going to happen next. This art interests us." That's one of our goals and we should stick to it. I think that the scale of the fair should remain as is, if we don't want to lose our focus. It's not about arbitrarily inviting some random chic and trendy German or English gallery. I mean, we actually really do not need to eke that out. Our future lays more in showing the West what we have to offer; and have them come to Vienna because they want to see what's taking place in our focus countries.

To answer your second question: the selection comittee is now in its third year and it will probably change again soon. It is just natural. I think that the advisory board has to be renewed regularly and the spring-deadline should be debated. We have to see how we will deal with this in the future. I was a bit afraid - because of the excess of art fairs and the collision of event dates around this time - that we'd have big problems, but I found it interesting to see that it was not the case. We have had as many applications - if not even more - as last years; we have had to turn down a third of the applying galleries, because they were not approved by the advisory board; and we were especially very surprised by the number and rapidity with which collectors confirmed their participation. They did not seem to ask themselves if they should rather go to Frankfurt, Düsseldorf or Cologne. The decision to come to Vienna seemed to have been very clear for them.

AfN: On top of the artists and galleries, the various collectors associations play an important role in the success of a fair. Which groups and associations did you talk to and how did you proceed to get them to contribute to Viennafair?

Bartz: We have a very interesting programme of debates which revolve around the themes of the fair; there is therefore a lot about Eastern Europe. Additionally, we have invited a lot of guests; there will be a large panel-discussion about European Biennials. There is a lot about art taking place in Vienna during this week.



Artfacts.Net booth at the Viennafair

AfN: You are without a doubt paying a lot of attention to the art fairs market. Where do you see Viennafair positioned, currently? And where would you like to take it in the future?

AfN: I have been asked that before, on a press conference. For us, the question is simply not relevant. Vienna does not try to create competitions between fairs; who's the best? The fastest? Who has more artists or galleries? For us, our goal is clear. We want to ensure that art from Eastern Europe, Austria and from the neighbouring countries finds favour with a larger public, that it becomes better known and that it finds buyers.

AfN: Mr. Bartz, thanks a lot for this interview.


Interview: Artur M. Holweg

www.viennafair.at

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