Contemporary Lynx In Conversation With Viennafair Artistic Directors Christina Steinbrecher-Pfandt and Vita Zaman

VIENNAFAIR starts next week. Both reputed and young galleries from the whole world will be participating — many of them from the Central and Eastern Europe and Russia. Contemporary Lynx will report on the participation of Polish artists and galleries. For all those who hesitate whether to visit Vienna during the fair or not, we recommend reading an interview that we did recently with the Artistic Directors of the event: Christina Steinbrecher-Pfandt and Vita Zaman.

Christina Steinbrecher-Pfandt (left) and Vita Zaman (right) artist directors, VIENNAFAIR The New Contemporary. Photographer: Markus Kloiber

Christina Steinbrecher-Pfandt (left) and Vita Zaman (right)
Artistic Directors, VIENNAFAIR The New Contemporary.
Photographer: Markus Kloiber

Contemporary Lynx: You promote Viennafair under the name of The New Contemporary. How does this relate to the profile of the fair ? How do you understand this catchword?

Vita Zaman: For us, The New Contemporary translates into changing points of cultural power and decentralization, as well as “alternative” or rather more “innovative” approaches to such cultural events and formats as art fairs, bienalles, mega exhibitions, etc. We believe that a lot of interesting ideas can be gathered and archived online and that is why our blog, available at, works as an extension or a trailer of the Vienna Fair.

Christina Steinbrecher-Pfandt: The New Contemporary is another name for the region we are featuring. The East and Southeast are something that is becoming increasingly interesting, also by its diversity. It has always been regarded as Eastern Europe, however, the “Eastness” is very distinctive in each country.

CL: Do you think that Vienna has a chance to be a new center of contemporary art, not only on the Central European scale, but also in the world?

VZ: Vienna has a great chance of becoming a magnet for the key players and art lovers from particular regions and of developing unique links with Turkey, Middle East, Russia or Asia. However, the city is better suited to boutique scale fairs, with the strong focus on the countries of Northern, Southern, Central and Eastern Europe, as well as the Caspian Sea area. It will not be able to compete with London, New York or Hong Kong for obvious reasons. Vienna Fair can become a tag word for the “Europeaness” and its transforming relationship with the “East.” And of course, we have been defining European identity for a long time by contrasting it with the otherness of the “East,” or Islamic countries, or non-democracies.

CS: Vienna is not only beautiful and rich in history and culture, but also very convenient. It is a characteristic that is more and more relevant when choosing how to spend time. Visiting a fair should be a pleasurable experience and Vienna does offer it all. It is a very compact center of the art world.

CL: Currently, there are many important art fairs in the world. What distinguishes Viennafair from other fairs? How do you draw the attention of the collectors?

VZ: Vienna is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It is a must place to visit.

The fair has a great selection of new galleries that will not be seen anywhere else.

The collectors are attracted by the educational programs we created, profiling new regions to them, by curated shows such as the Vienna Duet: Poland and Georgia, or Vienna Pop: The School of Happiness – featuring emerging Austrian artists.

CS: We do not only cover many countries from the East, but also shed light on the quality and regions that have not been really on the map of collectors so far. So, it is the quality and unexpected combined with the very established that we can show.


CL: There are eight galleries from Poland at Viennafair this year. This is probably the “record” number. Do you, as the persons from outside, notice anything that is characteristic for them? Do you find any common denominator of the Polish art galleries and art they promote?

VZ: I think of Poland as a leading country on the map of the contemporary art in Europe and I am a strong believer in its impact on the future, as well as its current position. I hope that there will be even more galleries and institutions (especially regional ones) presented in Vienna next year. Polish galleries have a good attitude, are diverse enough in terms of their programs, and foster the young scene. I come from Lithuania and am quite envious of the Polish story. As for a country of 3 million people, we also have great galleries, art institutions and artists, but not enough collectors.

CS: It is remarkable that the middle class does collect and is able to sustain a very active scene with a great diversity of galleries. My impression is that they are young and confident about their artists and that they influence the mentality of other collectors and drivers of the market.

CL: You were traveling a lot during the preparations for the fair. You were in Poland at least twice. Did you have a chance to get better acquainted with the Polish art? Did any artistic phenomenon capture your special attention during those stays in Poland?

VZ: I was very impressed by young unrepresented artists. I was totally embarrassed about my lack of knowledge of Polish Modernism and I need to do more research. My research was still quite superficial – I think one needs to spend 3 months or so to really get an insight.

As a result of my emotional visits, I became a big fan of Poland and got the feeling that the country embodies the claim for the New Contemporary Europe—one of the few success stories within the European Union.

Also, young people were confident, optimistic and had a lot of good energy!

CL: Do you remember what was your first contact with Polish art and when?

VZ: About ten years ago (when I was still a reluctant gallerist and an aspiring curator), within the IBID projects, we did a show with the Raster gallery in London with Maciejowski and Bujnowski. This was during the first six months of the IBID’s existence and we were so “green” that we hardly sold anything. But still, we had a great time.

CS: Paweł Althamer in the Bonnefanten Museum in 2004.

CL: How do you perceive the Polish art market, especially in the comparison to other Central European countries?

VZ: It is quite strong and non-speculative. You also have collectors interested in blue chip art, which is quite unusual for the region, except for Russia.

CL: The fair is a commercial event where the economic aspect is very important. Many countries still feel the effects of crisis. How does this situation influence the art market and organization of the fair?

VZ: Well, we have to work with what we have—we are hoping for the best but preparing for the worst, and we are trying to attract more American buyers, as well as to convince Austrian collectors that there is an international art market and not just the local Austrian scene.

CS: We understand that people make rational choices when traveling. We have chosen a very particular angle of what we present. I think we have chosen the right path to be considered very distinctive. What we do, cannot be found anywhere else.

Messe Wien Eingang A Copyright: Reed Messe Wien | G. Szuklits

Messe Wien Eingang A
Copyright: Reed Messe Wien | G. Szuklits

CL: Vita, you said at one of the meetings, that the crisis is in fact very good for the art. That the artists must respond somehow to this situation—the art becomes first of all a way of their lives and only then a way of making money. But to achieve this, it is necessary to get rid of fear and gain self-confidence. This is very interesting. But, do you think this also applies to the fair? Viennafair has changed its character recently. You became the Art Directors of Viennafair last year. Did you a have to change the focus of the fair? What are your innovations? Can you tell us what is the most important change for you?

VZ: We decided to break some rules, be loud, provocative in our programming, and we have more, bigger changes in mind but we cannot speak about it yet. Every day, we talk about what can be done against all the odds. Having a private Russian investor is a very interesting experience— every single day, we have to come up with fresh ideas about how to create something new. But a fair is not an art practice of one person—it takes time to execute changes. Viennafair has been quite a slow Titanic for the past nine years, and now we are trying to transform it into a speed boat and so we are working 24/7 with a lot of blond ambition.

CS: Yes, we are voicing very loud what we have on offer. We are doing it into the city and into the world. We have upgraded the visitor program and the VIP program. We work for regular visitors, as well as for collectors.

CL: The fair is not only about success and good results, but also about hard work. Did you experience any unexpected situations during the fair organization or anything that surprised you?

VZ: Yes, I wasted a lot of time in Vienna as some people have too much spare state-funded time and they like to talk rather than act. But it is also charming, like films from the 60s, when there were no computers, only secretaries typing. Vienna has a special slow motion time.

CS: Although it is a capital with 1.6 million people, everything seems to be slower. The decision making process takes longer in Vienna. I was very positively surprised by the amount of people interested in art and the high quality of conversations about art.

CL: The fair will be accompanied by the exhibition “School of Happiness” also with the participation of the Polish artists. At the end of our interview, can you say a few words about the idea of this exhibition?

VZ: This is a part of the project Vienna Duet: Poland and Georgia. Together with Klara Czerniewska, we have created a show Who You Are or the School of Hapiness merging our common interests. We are grateful to the Polish Cultural Institute in Vienna for enabling us to get this project off the ground.

CS: It’s the approach to tackling art as something very human, as asking very life relevant questions. One can perceive it as very personal or general.

CL: Thank you very much for the very interesting talk.

Christina Steinbrecher-Pfandt, artistic director, VIENNAFAIR The New Contemporary

Christina Steinbrecher-Pfandt was born in 1983 in Kazakhstan. She studied at Manchester University in Great Britain, where she graduated with a Master in Contemporary Art in 2007. In April 2012 she became the artistic director of VIENNAFAIR The New Contemporary, together with Vita Zaman. In addition to her role as an artistic director of Art Moscow from 2009 to 2012, she also co-curated the exhibition “Unconditional Love,” in the framework of the 53rd Venice Biennale and was a member of the curatorial team for the 3rd Moscow Biennale 2009. From 2011 to 2012, Christina Steinbrecher-Pfandt was an artistic director of the Moscow House of Artists, and in 2012 she participated as the curator of the Platform Moscow in the Berliner Festspiele. In June 2013, she curated the exhibition “Rhythm Assignment” by Russian artist Katya Bochavar in Bonnefanten Museum, Maastricht, and in September 2013, the Special Project in the framework of the Moscow Biennale 2013. Christina Steinbrecher-Pfandt has also been the curator and head of the Sputnik Art Foundation since 2010 and has held an executive function for the Innovation Prize of the National Centre for Contemporary Art, Moscow since 2011.

Vita Zaman, artistic director, VIENNAFAIR The New Contemporary

Vita Zaman was was born in 1976 in Lithuania. She studied art and art history at Goldsmiths College, University of London and photography at the Royal College of Art, London. She also completed a master’s degree in Creative Curating at Goldsmiths College. She founded and led IBID Projects in London and Vilnius prior to working with the renowned Pace Gallery in New York, where she established many contacts with the most important galleries in Europe and the USA, as well as many young galleries around the world. In 2011 she curated the group exhibition “Black-Royal Rumble” at Waffle House in Miami together with Olivier Babin and Michael Nevin, and in 2012 the group exhibition “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. New works from Berlin” with David Adamo, Tim Eitel, Andy Hope 1930, Robert Janitz, Gianluca Malgeri, Andrea Salvino, and Dirk Skreber for Magazzino d’Arte Moderna in Rome. In April 2012, she assumed the position of an artistic director of VIENNAFAIR The New Contemporary together with Christina Steinbrecher-Pfandt. In April 2013, Vita Zaman—as an expert on contemporary art from Eastern Europe— participated in the discussion round “Der Standard Kulturtalk” about the Bucharest Biennale 2014. Currently, she is also a jury member for the art prize “Roter Teppich für junge Kunst 2013” and the curator of the video program for the 2013 summer festival “Lovely Days” in Bol on the Croatian island of Brac.

 Translated by Urszula Płoch-Syhłowyj

Messe Wien Eingang A Copyright: Reed Messe Wien | G. Szuklits

Messe Wien Eingang A
Copyright: Reed Messe Wien | G. Szuklits

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About The Author


Founder and director of London-based arts organisation Contemporary Lynx, since 2013. Editor-in-chief and founder of the print magazine Contemporary Lynx with a global reach and international distribution, listed as one of the best art magazines in London by Sotheby’s Institute of Art and recommended by Tate Modern bookshop.

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