Christina Steinbrecher-Pfandt Expands the Austrian Art Scene

Christina Steinbrecher-Pfandt. Portrait by Elsa Okazaki.
Christina Steinbrecher-Pfandt. Portrait by Elsa Okazaki.

As Austria’s largest contemporary art fair, ViennaContemporary acts as an important platform for regional and international cross-over. Held at the historic Marx Halle, the annual affair is helmed by artistic director Christina Steinbrecher-Pfandt, who has helped develop the fair’s international presence. Opening on September 20, this year’s fair will pay special attention to Nordic and Austrian artists. Before the festivities, we spoke with Steinbrecher-Pfandt.

How would you describe Vienna's art scene? To put it briefly – Vienna’s art scene is vibrant and internationally established in its institutions. It has a long legacy of continuously producing renown artists from Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele to Maria Lassnig, Valie Export, Franz West, Erwin Wurm, Heimo Zobernig, Gelitin and many more.

If you could describe your fair with three adjectives, what would you use? Unique, smart, forward-looking

What impact has viennacontemporary had on the city? We have put the fair and the city with a date in the international art fair calendar and therefore into the calendar of all relevant participants. Many of them make it to Vienna already on a annual base and we working to enlarge this audience of people that understand that Vienna is a city with amazing contemporary output.

Locally, the fair has driven the Viennese art scene to bundle efforts in the beginning of the autumn season. Satellite events such as curated by vienna and Parallel are major museum openings specially planned during the fair week. Additional third-party collateral events and conferences result in a city-wide range of events and exhibitions, creating a moment for Vienna's art and validating our claim that Vienna is the new center for contemporary art, in the region and internationally.

You've said your goal is to bring together Eastern and Western art markets.Why is Vienna the right place for this? Look back at the city's history within the Austro-Hungarian Empire; it has always been a meeting place between East and West. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, the official entry point to Western Europe was though Vienna. In several ways, I can compare Vienna to San Francisco where nationalities live peacefully together and yet maintain their traditions.

What do you consider your biggest professional accomplishment to date? viennacontemporary is this talent hub for many galleries--even directors from other fairs scout viennacontemporary for artists and galleries from the region we represent.

What are you looking forward to at this year's fair? What will be new? There are so many things to look forward to – the main thing is to see the people again – the gallerists, collectors, curators, museum representatives, and artists. Program wise, we have a few novelties this year such as the new category Solo Expanded curated by Abaseh Mirvali juxtaposing international and Austrian artists. I also really look forward to our special project "Focus" on Ex-Yugoslavia and Albania, curated by Adela Demetja, which explores the shifts in the art scene and artist production of the Yugoslavian successor states. The revamped talks program curated by Kate Sutton and Julien Robson also promises to be a highlight of the fair.

When do you start planning the next fair, what is the timeline like? We are in preparation and in the midst of conversations for projects for the next two fairs. Galleries need some time to actually take a decision. It's a people business; they look at you for two years, then they come and see, and next year they participate. The gallery world consists for idealists that believe in their artists and work.

What Austrian artists are on your radar? There are many, but Heimo Zobernig and Erwin Wurm are the top Austrian artists working internationally followed by Christian Rosa, Jannis Varelas and Nick Oberthaler. Emerging young artists I keep an eye on are Anna-Maria Bogner, Benjamin Eichhorn, Bernhard Hosa, Sebastian Koch, Ulrike Königshofer, Evelyn Loschy, Constantin Luser, Philipp Fleischmann, Bert Löschner, Christoph Meier, Ute Müller, Sarah Pichlkostner, and Stefan Reiterer.