Notorious talked with the expert duo behind Vienna Art Week

CultureLifestyleNovember 15, 2019

From 15th to 22nd November 2019, everything in Vienna will once again revolve around art. The Vienna Art Week will focus attention on the city‘s comprehensive art scene, with more than 70 programs. Under the motto “Making Truth” Vienna Art Week 2019 sets out in search of the truth at a time when ”Fake News” is prevalent.

We met the curatorial expert duo Robert Punkenhofer and Angela Stief to talk about art, truth and crazy moments of the past 15 Vienna Art Week Years.

This year Vienna Art Week takes place under the motto “Making Truth”. What do you want to express with it?

Angela Stief: Making truth sounds very similar to faking truth. Since the term “fake news” is on everyone’s lips at the moment, we thought of a way to find the truth again, and we found it in art. Vienna Art Week is always very open but also very specific with its mottos, in what the event wants to express.

Robert Punkenhofer: First of all, we have chosen the motto “Making Truth” because of the term fake news, as Angela already mentioned. It’s a very hot topic in our society, and we want to highlight the notion of truth from an artistic point of view. Picasso once said that “Art is a lie that enables us to see the truth“. With this thought in mind, we organised this year’s art week programme including talks, discussions, tours and exhibitions. Artists are building their own world of truth in their studios that can be explored by the visitors. I think art has a significant impact on the way of thinking of our society. The search for truth from an artistic point of view is also a contribution to current populist trends, and even in social media, where the notion of reality doesn’t seem to count anymore. The voice of art is simply vital.

As you mentioned social media – you want to implement an art platform to represent the Viennese art scene all year round. What is it all about?

Robert Punkenhofer: We’ve had this festival format for 14 years now. Once the week is over, there isn’t much communication or dialogue throughout the rest of the year. We want to change that. We want to come up with a pure art platform on which you can find only art-related news; find museums, exhibitions – as a local or tourist. Of course, it shouldn’t be a tourism platform; it should represent the art scene from contemporary to old masters.

It’s going to be the 15th edition of Vienna Art Week. What was the craziest art week moment in all these years?

Angela Stief: Fun question, but this is the first year I’ve been involved, so probably this is a question for Robert.

Robert Punkenhofer: I can answer this easily. We always have artistic interventions. One highlight for me, as well as a pretty crazy situation, was perhaps when we worked with an artist who organised a party and exhibition in my house, and, as part of an art project, he gave me sleeping pills. He literally took me out of my role as a serious artistic director and simply got me to sleep while the party was in full swing. There’s nice documentation about it. Everyone just thought “what’s wrong with Robert, is he totally crazy?” The artist didn’t allow the visitors to enter the room I was sleeping in, and they were all stunned.

Thanks for this story, Robert! How would you describe the Viennese Art Scene with three words, besides crazy?

Angela Stief: There’s a lot of potential; it’s rich but underestimated.

Robert Punkenhofer: Dynamic, multicultural and below the radar.

Vienna is a city rich in culture and art, and therefore, there are a lot of art events such as Parallel Vienna or viennacontemporary happening. How do you differ from those events?

Angela Stief: viennacontemporary is an art fair, so that’s very different. It doesn’t mean that we don’t want to sell anything, but it’s a festival, and for me, as a curator, this is one of the reasons why I like working with an event like this.

Robert Punkenhofer: The big difference is very clear. In our case, it’s all about the artistic content that is being produced, exhibited and discussed, whereas at Parallel and the viennacontemporary fair, it’s about the market and selling art. Another aspect is that we don’t focus only on contemporary art.

How did you get into curating Angela?

Angela Stief: I studied History of Art, and was curating a lot during this time in New York, Berlin, and so on. Then I became a curator at the Kunsthalle Vienna and worked there for eleven years before becoming independent. I’ve worked as an independent curator for about seven years now, and I also do a lot of writing, publishing and coaching.

Robert, you have been working as a trade commissioner for years. How does this role go along with the one as artistic director?

Robert Punkenhofer: It doesn’t at all! But one common thing is that, as an artistic director, you have to be diplomatic, you have to listen to many voices and bring them together, and as a trade commissioner, you need to do that as well. It’s all about networking and bringing businesses together. I worked at the Guggenheim Museum as well as a trade commissioner, so I was always trying to breach the world of international businesses, art, design and architecture.

Besides art, your curatorial expertise also extends to the world of fashion. In 2009, you curated the exhibition “A way beyond fashion” during New York Fashion Week. Can you tell us more about it?

Robert Punkenhofer: It was an exhibition at Apexart, and it was a big honour to curate there. It’s a substantial curatorial space, and my notion was to focus on works on the edge of art and fashion. I had works by Hussein Chalayan and other great designers. Lucy Orta, for example, presented her refuge wear, so it was also from an ethical and philosophical point of view, and worked well as a contribution to New York Fashion Week.

Angela Stief: I would like to add something here. I curated an exhibition about Leigh Bowery, who is very prominent within fashion. People called him a walking work of art, and I think he is still an icon for the leading fashion designers out there.

There is no doubt that people from the art scene are also very stylish! Where do you head to extend your wardrobe to appear perfectly dressed during Art Week?

Angela Stief: For me, that’s quite complicated because there’s almost no store where I head regularly; I just look around. And there are also no rules in terms of brands. I combine affordable stuff with expensive pieces, and you can also find a lot of vintage clothes in my wardrobe. It’s the same with how I find art – I get bored by only going to museums and established galleries. For fashion, I also go to Kaufhaus Sonne (laughs); this is where you find the cheapest and sexiest stuff.

Robert Punkenhofer: To get a belt, I go to AND_i, a wonderful jewellery and accessories designer. For my watch, I go to Carl Suchy because it’s my own company (laughs), and for my suits, I go to Thomas Oláh, a set and costume designer who is working with me on a new project to revive Ernst Dryden, a 19th-century fashion designer. Hopefully, I can wear our first suit already at the opening.

For you, what’s the artsiest place in Vienna?

Angela Stief: For me, it’s always the studios, and there are so many I haven’t seen yet!

Robert Punkenhofer: Café Anzengruber, because there is a fantastic mix of people, from artists to local heroes, and the whole atmosphere; getting drunk and the dialogues – it’s incredible. And the Schnitzel is an artwork itself.
Robert, name a fun fact about Angela.

Angela Stief: (Laughs) I am not a funny person; I am totally serious.

Robert Punkenhofer: I admire Angela for working as a curator; I think it’s a challenging decision. That’s not a fun fact, but that’s a fact I want to point out. The fun fact for me is that I always look forward to seeing her because of the way she dresses. I love the diversity of her glasses; they are wonderful to see each time.

Angela, it’s your turn, name a fun fact about Robert.

Angela Stief: That’s a tough question. I like his nickname, which is Punk. Maybe in English, it’s Punky, may I call you Punky then?

Robert Punkenhofer: You can always call me Punky, yes (laughs).
Thanks for the fun talk!