Vienna Fair Rebrands as Vienna Contemporary

Major changes are afoot as the fair enters its second decade.

Christina Steinbrecher-Pfandt, Kasper König
Photo: Jakob Polacsek via VIENNAFAIR

Austria’s biggest art fair, Vienna Fair, announced on Friday that it will henceforth be known as Vienna Contemporary. The fair will also move locations beginning in 2015 from the Messe Wien convention center to the Marx Halle, a historic market hall in the city’s east.

The change makes the second major shift in four years for the art fair. Christina Steinbrecher-Pfandt and Vita Zaman took over its direction in 2012, following a restructuring of the fair’s management. The restructuring saw a new company, VF Betriebsgesellschaft mbH, take over management of the fair from Reed Exhibitions, the convention giant which also counts FIAC and Paris Photo in its portfolio. An influx of investment from Russian real estate mogul Dmitry Aksenov and, initially, Sergey Skaterschikov buoyed the transition. Skaterschikov stepped out after one year, and Zaman resigned from her post earlier this year.

The rebrand will in some ways be a more drastic shift for the general public. But, as Steinbrecher-Pfandt explained in an interview with artnet News, it is also somewhat of a hangover from that initial restructuring. “We had the Vienna Fair brand licensed [from Reed Exhibitions] for 10 years, with the option to leave after three years,” she explains.

It’s an option that they took at that three year mark. While they didn’t exactly want to tear out 10 years of hard work to gain brand recognition, initial calculations placed a move to a new space—something Steinbrecher-Pfandt has long sought—and the development of a new identity at a more or less equal cost to that of paying Reed’s licensing fees.

Moving to Marx Halle

The move from Vienna Fair at the Messe to Vienna Contemporary at the Marx Halle had one particularly key advantage. “For us, it was all about being able to fix the date of the fair,” says Steinbrecher-Pfandt. “When my team came on, the fair was moved to autumn from spring and was allocated a time slot that [Reed] had available.”

In the three years since, the fair has been held in the middle of September (2012), the middle of October (2013), and the beginning of October (2014). “The only option Reed offered us was to change dates every year,” the director explains. That quickly became untenable, with galleries, collectors, and other partners unable to commit to participating in or attending the fair simply because they couldn’t plan it in consistently around other obligations.

Marx Halle interior

Marx Halle interior.
Photo: Annemarie Prinz

Save the annual Curatedby festival in the galleries, which has moved all three years to coincide with Vienna Fair, it was also difficult for institutions to plan exhibition openings around the art fair. (Curatedby is expected to decide on Monday afternoon whether or not to move yet again to Vienna Contemporary’s new time slot.)

As for their new location, Vienna’s petite city center didn’t exactly leave Vienna Contemporary spoiled for choice. “Marx Halle was the only other space that could accommodate our needs,” says Steinbrecher-Pfandt. Even still, she plans to further reduce the number of galleries exhibiting at the fair to “around 100.” One hundred fifteen galleries participated in 2014, which already represented a 28 gallery reduction from 2013 (see “Swift Sales at Vienna Fair’s 10th Edition“).

The official list of galleries for 2015 is still a ways off. But clues to how its makeup may shift are already being laid. Whereas Steinbrecher-Pfandt and Zaman’s 2012 takeover of Vienna Fair was predicated on a doubling down on its USP of highlighting galleries from Eastern Europe, for Vienna Contemporary the director says “the emphasis is on being an international art fair.” She adds that “we will continue to show the greatest art from Eastern Europe,” but one might expect a healthy dose of red pen being let loose on that section of the exhibitors list.

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