On the occasion of Vienna Art Week 2018, I was invited to introduce a group of people, who showed up on the day for my publicly announced tour, to five of the younger galleries in Vienna. But what did we see where? What did we talk about inside the gallery spaces? And what kind of ideas and historical anchor points do the exhibited works bring to mind?
The tour started at Galerie Emanuel Layr, where we talked about the multilayered conceptual work of the New-York-based Austrian artist Anna-Sophie Berger entitled Don’t smoke with the gallerist himself. The core of the show is a site-specific cube-puzzle installation (2018) that comprises of single plywood sculptures, dressed in colour-intensive fabrics. Despite directly mimicking flags of selected European countries that have, or have not, banned smoking in public spaces, they also remind of Piet Mondrian’s modernist colour grids translated into 3-D models. Put on plastic wheels, the single parts of the work can be de- and reattached arbitrarily. Berger’s three-dimensional rather playful take on this socio-political and health issue is surrounded by several of her other conceptual works. One photograph, entiteld Wassergasse, hanging next to the entrance door of the gallery, depicts a bright red light radiating from traffic lights and its reflective double in the large windows of the building behind it. The photograph was captured in Vienna’s wet Wassergasse [water alley], which we ironically visited later in the evening.
For the time being, we had to stop the conversation with the gallery owner and crossed over the street to see Kyle Thurman’s ‘Tremoring Cup’ exhibition at Sophie Tappeiner’s gallery next door. The thirty-two-year-old American artist shows mixed-media drawings of men on pastel-colour seamless paper. Hung at different eye height inside the gallery, his series Suggested Occupation (especially, number 14, 16, 19, 23, 24) questions what masculinity, in all its corporeal queerness (violence, helplessness, shame, insecurity, sensitivity, emotionality), looks like today. The bright colours of the paper stand in contrast to his delicate ductus and use of drawing materials. The fingers and feet of the fragment of a male person sitting on a floor, having taken off his left shoe, of Suggested Occupation 20 remind of Egon Schiele’s work. Perhaps it is no coincidence that his emerging body of work has found its way to Vienna. Thurman’s two light-fly installations, one placed on a take-away coffee cup pedestal put on the floor, the other placed onto a wall in the back of the gallery, pose more general questions about the irony of human fragility. In addition to addressing the illnesses of our take-away-through-away society, these sculptural-like installations also metaphorically point towards the culturally-ingrained dichotomy that still operates between human and animal, or, strictly speaking, between human and insect. The Serres-ian figure of the parasite logically comes to mind, denoting an observer—but also a player—within the system.
The next gallery on our tour was Zeller van Almsick. There we looked at a collection of paintings, entitled Tiefer Hängen [Hang it lower] by the Austrian artist Michael Fanta, who studied in the class ‘painting inside an extended space’ with Daniel Richter at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. Painting in between the space that lies between abstraction and figuration, his works playfully stage the texture and colour of paint, and experiment with whether and how text slogans can contribute to colour compositions. His preoccupation with the medium of painting appears to be neither abstract nor concrete—perhaps a projection of abstract concreteness?
Upon entering the room next door, occupied by Collectors Agenda co-founded by Florian Langhammer, we took some time to look in more detail at the small-scale works by Dejan Dukic. His technique literally stands out. The artist creates his work by massaging oil paint through the surface of canvas from behind; this produces a similar but different abstract feeling of materiality in comparision to Fanta’s experimentation with materials. Dukic’s application of paint is one that sticks to the top of the painterly surface, instead of becoming a part of its support.
Then, walking back up again to Parkring, we visited the gallery Croy Nielsen run by Oliver Croy and Henrikke Nielsen. There we looked at large figurative paintings that joined the texture of words and human forms by the Canadian artist Zoe Barczá. Her work originally raises awareness to the complex operations of emotions that not only constitute but also fabricate bodies. Affects of human emotions are in focus in Soshiro Matsubara’s work too, exhibited in the other room. His lilac table-sculpture, a reconstruction of an SM-scene, was placed at the centre and surrounded by the drawings that he found in an antique shop when visiting it together with his wife. The artist himself was present and quickly demonstrated for us what the small, hollow metal fingertip on the table can be used for upon being asked by a woman of group.
With a smile upon our faces, we made our way to your last stop of the evening, Wassergasse #14. At Gianni Manhattan, we encountered Zsófia Keresztes’s body-shaped mosaic sculptures. The hybrid, on the verge of becoming abstract, forms put us in a state of visceral empathy. Her stable but also at the same time fluidly appearing sculptural bodies of work sensitively foreground what often remains invisible at first sight, such as physical asymmetries and fragmentation. Their material appearance can indeed remind that it is not only digital culture but also physical cultural artefacts that still have an impact on our human anatomy and emotional makeup, just as vice versa, and points towards the fact that emotions simply cannot be treated as non-formational.
This written meditation on the two and a half hour tour that I gave does not nearly provide sufficient time to do the works of these artists justice, but by putting them into context, into a chain of timely events, the readers, the participants of the tour, and I can attempt to make first steps towards understanding how distinct the work of each artist, like the programme of each gallery, is. There is more to follow from them, for sure.
 Serres, M., The Parasite, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007, p. 68.
Photo courtesy of the artist and Galerie Emanuel Layr Vienna/Rome, Sophie Tappeiner, Zeller van Almsick, and Collectors Agenda; all others are my own.