Parallel Vienna 2020, Foto: Katharina Balgavy

Heimvorteil

A hybrid between art fair, exhibition platform and artist studio, PARALLEL VIENNA will once again this year unite exhibitions made by commercial galleries, off-spaces, art associations and solo presentations by selected artists. Preparations are in full swing to be able to present for the eighth time a fulminant fair as planned from 22 to 27 September 2020.

The Corona crisis is also noticeable at PARALLEL though: No parties, fewer exhibitors and several sponsors cancelled. In times like these, it is all the more important to promote the local and regional art and cultural scene. We talked to Isabella Hofmann, one of the curators, about what to expect this year at PARALLEL.

Cercle Libre: What makes PARALLEL VIENNA different from other art fairs?

Isabella Hofmann: PARALLEL VIENNA transcends the boundaries of the White Cube. While classical trade fairs work with perfect white stands, the PARALLEL uses a different, temporarily empty building each year as an interim tenant. In recent years, for example, these have included the Alte Post, the former Sigmund Freund University or former office buildings in Lassallestra├če. This year, we are moving into the old Gewerbehaus on Rudolf-Sallinger-Platz, where the offices of the Chamber of Commerce used to be located. The great thing is that each of these buildings already has a story to tell. It is always a surprise for us, too, in what condition the rooms are probably in. Sometimes there is building rubble on the floor, sometimes we have carpeting, sometimes linoleum flooring, this year even in almost all the colours of the rainbow. Some rooms still have a complete office wall construction. Every year, our exhibitors are invited to enter into dialogue with the rooms, to change and design them. In addition, we not only offer a platform for classical galleries, but also invite off-spaces, project spaces and individual artists to use a space every year. Last year PARALLEL also started inviting classes from Austrian art universities to create an exhibition at the fair. This year, the art universities will even occupy an entire floor. It is important to us not only to offer a platform to established galleries, but also to promote the young scene. Participation in the PARALLEL is by the way only possible after an invitation by our curatorial team (Stefan Bidner, Julia Harrauer and me).

CL: What do you find particularly appealing about your role as curator of PARALLEL?

IH: I find it exciting that we not only show galleries, but also PROJECT STATEMENTS and ARTIST STATEMENTS. Here, renowned galleries meet young art students and artists and vice versa, which I think makes for an exciting discourse and perhaps they can learn something from each other.  

CL: What is the trend at this year’s PARALLEL?

IH: The trend this year is clearly towards the local and regional art and culture scene. To promote this has always been important to PARALLEL, but this year it is even more so. Due to Corona, many international art fairs cannot take place, travelling is made difficult by closed borders, collectors are possibly absent, therefore it is all the more important for us to concentrate on what is produced here in our own country. This is also our advantage, because we are less dependent on international participants and visitors than other fairs.

CL: Would you like to tell us in advance about some of the highlights of this year’s fair?

IH: I don’t know how much I can give away, a highlight will surely be our roof terrace on the eighth floor with a panorama view over the whole city. ­čśë

CL: Are there a few artistic positions that you are particularly curious about?

IH: I am particularly curious to see what the classes of the art universities will be able to achieve. They can let their imagination and creativity run free in the rooms, which will certainly result in great presentations and projects.

CL: What consequences will the Corona crisis have for the art fair system?

IH: At the moment it is of course difficult to assess this, but as long as we have to fight the virus it will be really difficult for the big players such as Art Basel to hold a real fair. After all, they live from the galleries and collectors who come from all over the world. But I think that when we (hopefully) return to normality at some point, things will go back to the way they were before the crisis. Large art fairs are not only about art, but also about seeing and being seen, making and maintaining contacts, publicity, etc. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work so well from the sofa at home.  

CL: In the past two months, almost all market participants, including artists, have used or developed digital formats. Which of these will remain? To what extent do you think the market will shift to digital?

IH: The digital format will certainly become more and more important and will not disappear so quickly. We are also currently working on expanding our online offer and further developing and improving the app that was available last year. I think especially the young generation is already buying a lot online. We are already used to having everything delivered to our homes with just a few clicks, so why not art? Whereas the older generation of collectors still appreciates the personal contact with gallery owners and artists, as well as the personal advice. Of course, it is not possible to generalize in both directions. Moreover, especially when it comes to the high-priced segment, I think that more will continue to be sold offline. When I spend several thousand Euros on something, I don’t want to buy a pig in a poke. At least that would be my approach behind it. The big advantage though, especially for young artists, is of course also that the digital world makes it a little easier to be noticed without the need for a gallery as an intermediary. Of course you still have to be careful not to get lost in the masses.

CL: What can an art fair like yours do to support gallery owners and artists?

IH: First and foremost, of course, it is the framework and the platform we can offer them. In recent years, PARALLEL has established itself as one of the most important institutions in the Austrian art and cultural landscape. Last year we were able to register almost 18,000 visitors. In addition, we are still considerably cheaper than other art fairs in terms of the price-performance ratio, which means that even galleries and project spaces with a small budget can afford to participate and thus become visible to a larger audience.  

CL: When do you think an art fair is successful?

IH: In the last few years I have worked mainly for galleries and have been to countless trade fairs (including 5 times at the PARALLEL), so you experience the whole thing from the other side. And of course, the more sold, the more successful the fair was for the gallery. I think that can be turned around easily, as an organizer you also want the participants to sell well, so that they come back next year. However, the PARALLEL is not only about selling, we also want to promote the scene and show promising positions. That’s why our overall curatorial concept is especially important to us.

CL: Thank you for your time and all the very best for the fair!

Isabella Hofmann is a young art historian, who lives and works in Vienna.
Check out her blog:  
www.experiencing-art.com

Foto: Katharina Balgavy