Art Fair Battle Brews as Art Salzburg Founder Seeks Rights to Vienna Fair Brand

The fair's former team jumped ship to launch Vienna Contemporary.

Christina Steinbrecher-Pfandt and Kasper König at Vienna Fair 2014 Photo: Jakob Polacsek, courtesy Vienna Fair

Vienna may be adding yet another art fair to its schedule of art events in 2015. Though, if plans come to fruition, it wouldn’t exactly be a new one. Last December, the team behind Vienna Fair announced that it would rebrand the art event helmed by Christina Steinbrecher-Pfandt as Vienna Contemporary. The fair will be held at a new location, the historic Marx Halle (see Vienna Fair Rebrands as Vienna Contemporary).

December’s announcement gave reason to believe that the Vienna Fair was a thing of the past. But, this might not be the case. Only six weeks later, Austrian paper Der Standard reports that a new management team is in the process of obtaining the rights to the name Vienna Fair, which will continue to take place in its old location, the Messe Wien convention center.

Vienna Fair’s new operator is reportedly Wolfgang Pelz, an art fair veteran who also manages the fairs Art Austria and Art Salzburg. An official announcement of the fair’s resurrection has yet to be made. When contacted by artnet News, Pelz declined to comment on the matter, adding that a statement would be forthcoming in the next week.

Speaking to artnet News in December, Steinbrecher-Pfandt explained of her group’s switch, “We had the Vienna Fair brand licensed [from Reed Exhibitions] for 10 years, with the option to leave after three years.” When the holding company behind Steinbrecher-Pfandt’s fair, VF Betriebsgesellschaft mbH, opted out, Reed Exhibitions sought a new operator, according to the Austrian Observer. Reed, which also counts FIAC and Paris Photo in its portfolio, has been the owner to these rights since Vienna Fair’s inception in 2005. Reed Exhibitions CEO, Matthias Limbeck, stated that his company would not produce Vienna Fair on its own.

Steinbrecher-Pfandt has stressed that scheduling was the main reason for the change from Vienna Fair to Vienna Contemporary. “When my team came on, the fair was moved to autumn from spring and was allocated a time slot that [Reed] had available,” she explained. “The only option Reed offered us was to change dates every year.”

Vienna Fair has been held at a different slot each year since, moving from mid-September in 2012, to mid-October in 2013, and early October the following year. For 2015, the dates allocated by Reed Exhibitions were October 8–11, the week before London’s Frieze art fair. This was a last straw for the fair’s previous management.

Vienna Fair  Photo: Christian Jungwirth via VIENNAFAIR

Vienna Fair 2014.
Photo: Christian Jungwirth via VIENNAFAIR

Alternating dates rendered it unfeasible for the city’s major institutions to design long-term plans and align their openings with the fair’s dates. For galleries, collectors, and other partners, participation was sometimes impossible. Nevertheless, the 2014 edition of the Vienna Fair enjoyed a record 25,000 visitors and strong sales (see Swift Sales at Vienna Fair’s 10th Edition).

Steinbrecher-Pfandt was unavailable to comment at the time of writing. However, Bruno Stoefs, head of PR and Marketing for Vienna Contemporary told artnet News on Monday that a fixed date is now ensured for the next three years at the Marxhalle. “We wanted to have fixed dates to be able to better position the fair on the international calendar,” he explained. “We, at Vienna Contemporary, know that we can bring the people and the galleries—national and international. We’ve already done this for three years. We believe in our own position and work hard.”

Stoefs suggests that this head-down focus on their new venture will continue regardless of a new competitor, he added: “We’ll see if Vienna Fair materializes or not. There is no official statement that Vienna Fair will continue, there are negotiations between two parties, that’s all.”

Vienna Fair’s main sponsor, Erste Bank, withdrew its support at the end of last year after a ten-year-long collaboration with the fair. This took place before plans to rebrand as Vienna Contemporary were announced. However, Stoefs claims that the two decisions were unrelated.

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