The Smart Museum recently expanded its collection to include an assortment of pieces from Viennacontemporary, Austria’s largest international art fair. Dmitry Aksenov, the founder of the fair, invited the Smart Museum to bring 10 students from the University of Chicago to Viennacontemporary to select works for the museum’s contemporary art collection. Viennacontemporary showcases modern pieces from about 110 galleries from 26 countries, and Aksenov’s generous donation allowed these students to truly immerse themselves in this art fair.
Led by Jenny Carty, associate curator of modern and contemporary art, and Issa Lampe, deputy director for academic and curatorial affairs and director of the Feitler Center, students explored the fair over the span of a few days, searching for pieces that could possibly fit in the Smart’s collection. Carty shared that prior to the trip, “readings by UChicago professors Christine Mehring and Canice Prendergast, as well as articles by Thomas Crow, Hito Steyerl, and Pamela Lee, among others, were assigned and recommended to the students to reflect on the contemporary art market, globalization, and art fairs.”
Throughout the trip, the students also visited different museums around Vienna, such as the MUMOK, the Leopold, and Secession, embracing the city’s culture and environment. Art history graduate student Maggie Hire shared her experience: “I really enjoyed visiting the MUMOK and seeing the exhibition Vertigo: Op Art and a History of Deception 1520 – 1970. It's always great to have a better sense of what sort of artwork institutions other countries are promoting, and how they are presenting material (both artworks and didactics). MUMOK created some really interesting installations as part of Vertigo.” Along with these popular locations, the students had the opportunity to see public art around the city with UChicago alumna Caroline Schopp, who teaches art history at the University of Vienna. Some of the work they observed was by Department of Visual Arts faculty member Jessica Stockholder. They also met with the fair’s artistic director, Johanna Chromik, as well as three of the fair’s curators, Harald Krecji, Fiona Liewehr, and Tevž Logar.
After researching and reading about pieces that could add to the Smart Museum’s permanent collection, the students and faculty settled on buying three pieces by Austrian artist Sophie Thun, whose work asserts her body and sexuality through a combination of photography and photogram-making techniques. Hire said that while choosing an artist, they were “especially interested in considering the ways in which a work of art would dialogue with other artworks from the collection and how that dialogue might promote learning moments.” Thun’s pieces exemplified topics and themes relevant in the classroom setting, with potential to further provoke discussion and conversation for those visiting the museum.
The trip not only gave students a unique chance to explore the contemporary art scene in Central Europe, but it also related to their classroom experiences here at UChicago. With regard to Thun’s pieces, M.F.A. student Crystal Beiersdorfer said, “There is also potential in other departments besides the visual arts, such as discussing the use of the female nude in art history or gender studies.”
Viennacontemporary offered the students insight into the international art world and how it connects to ours. Carty hopes that “students have gained a richer understanding of the art market and the curator’s role in this network.”