viennacontemporary curator: Cathrin Mayer

Austria’s leading contemporary art fair, the viennacontemporary, supports the Vienna art scene, setting its gallery scene as a prime art location while also bringing together 65 galleries from 16 countries. One of its special shows is the ZONE1 exhibition, curated by Cathrin Mayer, which presented artists under 40 who live, work, or study in Vienna. Cathrin Mayer works as a curator at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin. Besides her work as a curator, she works on exhibitions on a project-basis, and regularly writes for publications and magazines. Since 2020, Mayer is also the co-director of the project space FRAGILE based in Berlin.

Can you give a brief summary of your past work as a curator? 

For the past five years I have been based in Berlin. I initially moved there because I got a job at the Berlin Biennale curated by the collective DIS. For about one year I worked with them as a curatorial assistant. In 2016, Krist Gruijthuijsen took over the directorship of KW Institute for Contemporary Art and asked me to join the curatorial team. During the past four years I worked on extraordinary projects such as the Pogo Bar, a weekly ephemeral format I initiated with Maurin Dietrich which took place in the basement of KW, inviting artists to work on new performances. I also had the pleasure to curate shows with artists like Evelyn Taocheng Wang, Anna Daučíková and Kris Lemsalu among others. Besides the work at KW I have done a lot of side projects, such as teaching at the University of fine Arts in Berlin or curating shows in non-institutional contexts like “Dead Heat” a solo show of Leda Bourgogne at the Braunsfelder Family collection in Cologne. Since June this year I left KW and dedicated my attention to various projects.I am currently working on the first big solo show of Estonian artist Flo Kasearu, which will be presented at the Tallinn Art Hall beginning of next year. I am also in the middle of finishing a book by Kosovarian artist Dardan Zhegrova which will be published by Sternberg Press this year. 

Anna Schachinger
Panels (Towel), 2020

What importance does the ZONE1 exhibition hold at the viennacontemporary?

The Zone 1 is one of the core sections of the fair together with the Explorations and the Film Section. It holds a special status because it is supported by the ministry of culture. This support enables a rather inexpensive participation fee for the galleries and therefore the economic pressure is fairly smaller. This enables younger galleries to participate and encourages to present more experimental approaches. 

Christophe de Rohan Chabot, Untitled (skull), 2020

How do you approach curating at an art fair versus other exhibitions?

Curating at a fair compared to conceiving exhibition for institutions to me seems to be a totally different game. When preparing an exhibition the conversation between the artist and the curator is central. In the context of a fair of course the gallery is very important and all decisions have to be discussed among the three conversation partners. When Johanna Chromik, the artistic director of the fair approached me to curate Zone 1, I immediately thought that I wanted to highlight the newcomers to the Austrian art scene, the majority of the artists is below 35 and a part of international conversation. Also among the galleries you only find two established ones, the others have recently opened in Vienna or moved from other cities. 

How did the physical location and space of the viennacontemporary impact your work?

It was my first time to experience the fair in the former market hall in Vienna’s third district. The vast space gives the opportunity to have an overall generous architectural layout, which is very beneficial for the artists, gallerists and of course the visitors.  

Mayer Kainer at viennacontemporary 

How did COVID-19 affect this year’s viennacontemporary? Did it have any effect on your work?

I believe that of course this year has been rather tough on the team of Vienna Contemporary. It is the first pandemic that we live through so there are no guidelines or experiences how to navigate in such times. Let’s see if Artissima will take place in November, but by now it seems that the Vienna Contemporary set a benchmark on how to do a fair under the current conditions. A lot of measures have been taken to secure a safe surrounding at the fair, it has gotten smaller in size and visitors could book time slots, so the amount of people in the space was always monitored. When it comes to my work for the Zone 1 it very much affected the outcome, I have to admit. Pre-Corona I wanted to have an equal amount of international and local galleries, but understandably this of course was not possible. But I am happy how it turned out and I felt there was a lot of solidarity among the galerists and artists enabling a very coherent presentation. 

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