forth year: 2001/2002 series of lectures: lectures / conversations with lecturers / lecturers

course for curators of contemporary art: course participants / study excursions / program collaborators / exhibition / course participant's texts


Sonja Zavrtanik
Vienna : Belgrade

The sheer volume of various media which today enable us to be up to date with the artistic production in the contemporary global world can still not replace a visit of a certain town. It is only through a direct contact with people and getting acquainted with the specific conditions in which art emerges within a certain environment, that a situation you could previously merely anticipate is brought closer to you. This was also the purpose of the visits to Vienna and Belgrade that we made within the frame of this years course for curators of contemporary art. We wished to get acquainted with the systems and structures of the contemporary art productions of two completely different towns, two towns for which you are at first convinced that the distance between the two is even greater then that shown on the map.
As expected Vienna proved to be a town deeply rooted in the European fortress, in which art moves according to the already well proven guidelines of the western art system with a well developed market and infrastructure. Even though it is known for its conservatism when compared to other European towns, we had the chance to get to know a very diversified structure of institutions which deal with contemporary art. From the low budget galleries to the newest Viennese acquisition, the museum giant MuseumsQuartier, which will supposedly become an equivalent to the Guggenheim, Tate Modern, Beaubourg, etc.
On the other hand, Belgrade proved to be a true antipode to the "Viennese art machinery". In ten years numerous things have changed there, unfortunately not for the better. The dimensions of the low budget Viennese galleries can be compared to the sole Belgrade gallery, in which the better contemporary art production is displayed. Unfortunately there are also hardly any means for survival of art in Belgrade. In Belgrade everything functions on the basis of voluntary work, there is almost no financing and the art infrastructure is hardly existent.
Searching for any kind of parallels between the two towns might seem almost perverse, for many artists from Belgrade see Vienna as the promised land. However, a very strong connection which links the experience of both towns does exist, i.e. the shadow of the ruling government which has managed to force its way deep under the skin of the art system in Vienna as well as in Belgrade. The only difference is that Haider's policy of withdrawing the funding of most institutions and galleries tries to repress the already established guidelines of the progressive development of contemporary art (which was formed already long before he stepped on the scene) and push the Viennese and the entire Austrian culture back a century, while the Milošević regime disabled its normal development in its initial stages. It is true that the Milošević regime has been buried for a while now, however this did not reduce the impression of our visit, for the memory of over a decade of his rule can still be felt. The dramatic consequences of this regime have, by all means, left a greater mark than the few years long nationalistic and conservative Haider's rule, however, the second joint denominator (noticeable in both towns) was the high level of civil disobedience which fought (and still is fighting) these political systems on different levels and where a politically engaged art formed almost naturally. All of this critically reflected the political situation in various ways.
The trips were therefore important already from the viewpoint of getting acquainted with the issues of how politics can mark art and the entire system within which it develops to a great extent, even more so because these issues are not something found merely in newspapers, but you also start placing faces to names. You can also notice that politically engaged art, whether it is good or bad, can finally appear and operate only in an environment in which the conditions are favourable for it.