Vienna Art Week: a talk with Robert Punkenhofer Artsy Fall.

In Vienna, fall is usually packed with design and art events, and blessedly, so is this year – same same but different. One of the yearly main events is VIENNA ART WEEK, a joint initiative of the most important exhibition houses, art spaces, educational institutions and galleries of the Austrian capital. Since 2005, the yearly event has attracted around 35,000 guests from Austria and abroad. Reason enough to meet up again with Robert Punkenhofer, the curator behind VIENNA ART WEEK, to talk about the influence of the current pandemic on the art scene and how the event will look like in this unusual year.

Studio of artist Robert Schaberl, part of Vienna Art Week.
Studio of artist Robert Schaberl showcasing the artwork series “Zentralformen” to be shown during the virtual open studio days. Courtesy of Robert Schaberl

What you need to know about Robert Punkenhofer

Robert Punkenhofer has been a well-known face in the international corporate and art management scene for over 20 years. He runs his own art agency, Art & Idea, acting as a link between art, architecture, design and business. Robert Punkenhofer is also the curator of VIENNA ART WEEK, concentrating on showcasing independent artists. As a curator, he owns his art collection with works by the Spanish conceptual artist Santiago Sierra and the Mexican artist Teresa Margolles, who received critical acclaim at the Venice Biennale 2019. Besides art, he loves fashion and accessories and brought back to life the traditional watch manufacturer Carl Suchy & Söhne.

Justin Lieberman's work "Doctrinal Disposition" at Vienna  Art Week.
Justin Lieberman’s work “Doctrinal Disposition”. Courtesy of Frank Stürmer
1- A year has passed since we last met for an interview – how are things going so far?

Robert Punkenhofer: Despite the new restrictions, it will be possible to hold the event, but in a different way and, of course, online. We built a digital platform to stay in touch with our followers and visitors. When corona broke out, we were in the middle of the organization with our key sponsors. At that point, states Robert Punkenhofer, we had to consider if Vienna Art Week could still be held or not. Finally, we decided that, no matter what, the event would take place.

“Especially this year, it’s essential to promote independent artists from and around Vienna, tour guides, etc., because they are struggling and need our support.”

2- What exact impact does the current pandemic have on artists and the scene per se?

RP: Unfortunately, a dramatic impact. If you are forced to close galleries, museums and studios, your income is almost gone. Many institutions acted pretty fast and went digital. I think this is definitely the best thing you can do in a situation like this. But economically, all the institutions, small and big, have had a revenue loss up to 40 per cent this year. The small galleries, for example, benefit the most from taking part in art fairs. So, not participating in art fairs threatens their very existence.

3- As an expert, do you have an advice for them?

RP: The most important thing is to reduce expenses to a minimum to simply survive. And, on the other hand, invest as much as you can in digital communication – live streams, auctions and pop-up exhibitions.

4- How will VIENNA ART WEEK look like this year, Robert Punkenhofer?

RP: All our programme partners will take part in Vienna Art Week online since right now; this is the only way possible. There will be online talks and virtual tours through museums, galleries and studios. Of course, we want to gain as much visibility as possible for local artists.

Part of the exhibition "DA" by artist Heinrich Dunst curated by Robert Punkenhofer for Vienna Art Week.
Part of the exhibition “DA” by artist Heinrich Dunst showing the gap between the visible and the sayable, the untranslatability of one form into another and the contextuality of spatial presentations. Courtesy of Heinrich Dunst
5- Which local artists thrill you the most at the moment?

RP: There are so many; Vienna Art Week has a well-curated selection of talented artists, says Robert Punkenhofer. Check the artists at the studio exhibition, a parcours that we did for the first time last year. You can see artists such as Erwin Wurm, Abramovic, Nitsch. Additionally, younger ones such as Oliver Hangl and Nives Widauer – everything online, of course.

6- Why is the motto Living Rituals, when these are a little bit difficult at the moment?

RP: First of all, we chose the theme because rituals play a big role in the art scene. Many artists have a well structured day beginning by sharpening their pens every morning before they start painting. We’d decided on this motto before corona broke out. Of course, when coronavirus hit us, we weren’t sure about the motto anymore. But the thought behind it is critical to us. Especially now, when everyone spends a lot of time online, community rituals are vanishing. So we wanted to show the importance of these rituals, even if we have to do it online right now.

7- How would you describe a typical Viennese art lover?

RP: There is this stereotype that people from the art scene only wear black, but they are quite fashion conscious too. I remember when I was a young student in New York and got my first consulting job. I was waiting for an Austrian art collector. And I could tell from a hundred meters away this was him, because of the way he dressed.

8- When you have international friends over in Vienna – where do you take them?

RP: Usually, I try to show them some of the not so touristy places because they can see those alone. When visiting Vienna for the first time, you shouldn’t miss the Kunsthistorisches Museum – one of the world’s five top museums. But mostly, says Robert Punkenhofer, I’d show small studios of independent artists in Vienna and the Danube canal’s street art.

VIENNA ART WEEK is happening online from 11 – 20 November 2020.

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