A Conversation with the New Artistic Director — Johanna Chromik
This week we are in Vienna. From September 26 to 29, Austria’s largest art fair viennacontemporary take place. This is the most renowned contemporary art fair in Central Europe. That’s why we spoke with the new Artistic Director of the fair — Johanna Chromik, on how the art market is changing, the impact of the fair on the Viennese art scene and the most visible trends in the art market.
Johanna Chromik, Press photos, (c) Kristina Kulakova
Dobromila Blaszczyk: Each year viennacontemporary gives an opportunity to sell, network and to present a Central and Eastern European galleries and artists. From this year you will continue this idea. As a new Director, what is your main goal?
Johanna Chromik: Now in its 8th year viennacontemporary has become the region’s leading fair through its focus on quality, cooperation and its special attention towards galleries and artists from CEE which has always been one key aspect of the fair and a very important part of its positioning. Located in the Marx Halle vc is a platform for collecting and exchanging, of contact and experience with a solid foundation.
For our core clientele being mid-size and young galleries we aim to provide a fruitful setting to successfully use the fair as a tool. Therefore, it will be crucial to further sharpen the profile, be a potential partner throughout the year, work even closer together with other events taking place in the city to increase the appeal of September in Vienna for international visitors. To make the fair more accessible and attractive we will strengthen our non for profit part of the programme with Talks, special guided tours and other events, as well as add art editions into the fair’s profile to lower the entry point for collectors to be. We also work towards further enhancing our social media and online presence to keep up with our audience not only during the five days of the fair but also throughout the year.
DB: Will we see some changes? What is the biggest difference?
JC: What I can see for the upcoming edition is that we have a very good line-up of galleries, first-timers and galleries which return and here particularly from CEE. At the same time the special categories are stronger than ever. Working in a time span of a few months so far there was time to develop and implement ideas within the existing structure which leaves room and potential for 2020.
DB: Providing galleries from Central and Eastern Europe a significant presence, could you tell us the highlights that we will see during viennacontemporary?
JC: I would like to name them all – we are honoured to have them with us. So easiest is to look at the countries which should give you a good idea: Definitely the 4 galleries from Slovenia which this year is our “Focus” Country with the project NSK State in Time; Window Project (Tbilisi/Georgia) in our special category Explorations; Maksla XO (Riga/Latvia); Meno Nisa (Vilnius/Lithuania); Stereo and Galeria Wschód (both Warsaw/Poland); Galeria Plan B (Cluj, Berlin); Galerie Iragui (Moscow); Eugster II Belgrad; Zahorian & van Espen (Bratislava, Prague); hunt kastner and SVIT (both Prague); Voloshyn Gallery (Kiev); acb and Kisterem (both Budapest).
DB: What does the selection process look like? What are your criteria for choosing? What kind of galleries/artists are you looking for?
JC: We have a very knowledgeable selection committee consisting of 5 gallerists. Together with them we go through each and every single application and they vote. The most important criteria is quality.
DB: What are the most visible trends in the art market at the moment? Which type of art gaining its popularity among collectors?
JC: On the one hand there is the tendency to play safe by investing in blue-chip art which is possible only for a fraction of collectors taking into the pricing into consideration. On the other hand we see a (re)discovery of female artists which mainly have a different price tag so far.
DB: Each year you collaborate with local galleries and museums. How do you involve the Viennese art scene during the art fair?
JC: Ever since I arrived in Vienna in January I have been in constant dialogue with as many gallerists, curators, and museum directors as well as off spaces and other partners as possible. Many contemporary Viennese galleries — established and young — participate at the fair which adds to the solid and vivid foundation of vc. The museums will have the chance to access the fair early on. Moreover, most of them are part of our active VIP program. There are also a few high-profile corporate collections in Vienna which are very important, too.
DB: Do you think that the art fair influenced a Viennese and Austrian art market? How has this situation changed?
JC: viennacontemporary plays a crucial role in the fall season and to a certain degree throughout the year. With its timing at the end of September and its location it is a must-see in Vienna, in the region and on an international level. The fair is a strong brand and certainly — in collaboration with galleries and the local collectors — draws in the international art crowd. It energises and mobilises.
DB: Working on an art fair is not just one month before the fair. It is a full-time job that last all year long. How many people work with you? Do you have an office?
JC: Our viennacontemporary office is located in Vienna’s lively and lovely 7th district. The Museumsquartier with Kunsthalle, Mumok, and Leopold as well as the KHM is in our neighborhood as well as some galleries and off-spaces plus great lunch-spots. With only a few weeks to go our office is buzzing with people; soon most of us are going to move to Marx Halle, the fantastic building the fair takes place at. After the fair the core team with 7 people will move back to the 7th.
DB: How you attract new galleries? How important are constant networking and travels?
JC: Certainly active networking is one of the key elements. It is also important to see the space where a gallery is located and build a (somewhat) personal relationship. Therefore, I have been traveling extensively to renew and deepen existing partnerships as well as to broaden them.
DB: As viennacontemporary’s new director where do you see the fair in ten years?
JC: Among one of the most important regional fairs which provides the best framework possible for galleries, collectors, art experts, and a general audience interact. A partner throughout the year vc will also cater to a young audience via a strong digital presence and tools.