Springtime in Vienna

The gallerists Oliver Croy and Laura Windhager in conversation
 Laura Windhager and Oliver Croy
 Ben Schumacher "The Testing Place" (2017); installation view at Croy Nielsen
 Nils Alix-Tabelin, Barbara Kapusta "In Middens" (2017); installation view at Gianni Manhattan
 Birke Gorm "IOU" (2017); installation view at Croy Nielsen
 Opening at Croy Nielsen

A sunny springtime afternoon in Vienna offers the perfect setting for a conversation with two gallerists about the changing art scene in Austria's capital city. Laura Windhager, who recently founded Gianni Manhattan, and Oliver Croy, who together with Henrikke Nielsen moved Croy Nielsen from Berlin to Vienna last year, talk about what the city has to offer in terms of competition, cooperation, concepts and collectors.
Moderated by Franziska Sophie Wildförster.


Franziska Sophie Wildförster: Oliver, in 2011 you and Henrikke Nielsen opened the gallery Croy Nielsen in Berlin, and you moved to Vienna last year. Why did you decide to take that step?

Oliver Croy: First I should say that the initial idea of moving to Vienna had mainly personal reasons. Nevertheless, we thought it would be interesting to move the gallery here because we felt a certain fatigue spreading in Berlin and saw that there is a certain potential and energy in Vienna that is going upwards.

FSW: Laura, you recently opened your gallery, Gianni Manhattan, to promote young and relatively unknown artists. Could you elaborate a bit on your concept and why you decided to open a commercial gallery in Vienna?

Laura Windhager: My biggest motivation was to work with artists of my generation. I want to show emerging international art and introduce new discourses and approaches to our audi-ence in Vienna. I hope that we have done that with our program so far: Nils Alix-Tabeling and Barbara Kapusta, and Matthieu Haberard’s first solo show in Austria. I think galleries can break away from the convention of being purely commercial spaces and that we can add to the discourse created by institutions and museums. For example with publishing books or through events that involve discussions or screenings, rather than just an open bar. I want Gianni Manhattan to be a site of experimentation that acknowledges that all the people involved, from the artists to the audience, evolve with our program. I hope that the gallery will provide a sustainable structure that encourages flourishing working relationships over a longer period of time, allowing the artists to grow and develop. I want to emphasize the idea of working together, building something together.


FSW: The Viennese art scene seems to have opened up recently. Do you think that such a development has to do with the fact that places like Berlin and London have become less attractive for artists and the cultural sector?

OC: Definitely, but this has many reasons. We should not, for example, underestimate real-estate prices. There is just much less space in Berlin now. Paris and Brussels are still there, with ups and downs. You need to be looking for alternatives. Vienna makes it quite easy for you, with the high quality of life, the rich museum landscape and the art schools.

LW: I agree. In Vienna you don’t have to juggle three jobs simultaneously and have a desk as a studio because it is the only thing you can afford, as in London. There is also a very good funding system here: a lot is covered by the public sector. On top of that we see these new art spaces emerging in Vienna bringing young international artists to the city. There wasn’t much here for a long time, only a handful of small artist-run spaces that soon closed. But it seems like we are now seeing a new generation in the driving seat, one that is more serious, more demanding: one that wants to make ambitious shows and foster a discourse. I hope that students and artists from abroad see that Vienna is very open, and that one is quickly integrated.


FSW: How about the structures for galleries one finds here in Vienna – what is the situation with funding, and how do things stand with Austrian collectors?

LW: There is relatively good funding. Museums get a certain amount of money to buy from Austrian galleries. The funding aims to support emerging or overlooked Austrian or Austria-based artists and in this way supports the galleries behind them as well. I believe that Austria is generally interested in expanding subsidies and recognises that it’s not a waste of money when it comes to promoting the gallery scene and the art scene as a whole.

OC: We haven’t really looked into the funding situation yet, as it is directed towards Austrian artists and programs. The only Vienna-based artist we have in our program so far is Andy Boot. In terms of collectors, one cannot expect to come to Vienna and have the local collectors tear the works off the wall. We have international collectors who came with us, and while there seems to be potential here, it is going to take time to build up a local collector base. Internationally, our move here has been very positively perceived, as people like to visit Vienna.

LW: There is an important young collectors scene in Vienna, also among friends who have made wiser career choices, are in their mid thirties and have the resources and interest to engage with art. But I completely agree with Oliver: you can’t wait for them to tear the works off the wall; that is not the case for me, either. In any case, I think that, in the long run, it is fundamentally more valuable for galleries to work cooperatively, to be inclusive, to maybe even start thinking about new formats of exchange for the emerging galleries.


FSW: What do you wish for the future?

LW: I hope that the development we’re talking about here is not only buzz, hype and specu-lation, but that it continues and even develops.

OC: Sustainability!

LW: Exactly, sustainability. I do not know what Gianni Manhattan will be like in five years. I hope of course that there we’ll see a new generation of collectors come into their own. In general, I think that Vienna really has a future.

OC: Agreed! I really think it’s great that there are rumblings about more galleries opening up in the near future, such as Sophie Tappeiner. I hope that Vienna will continue to grow into an interesting place for contemporary art – and that word gets around!


OLIVER CROY studied art at the University of Applied Arts Vienna before moving to Berlin some 20 years ago. Together with Oliver Elser he showed the Sondermodelle of Peter Fritz at the Venice and Berlin Biennales. In 2011, together with Henrikke Nielsen, he opened Croy Nielsen in Berlin. In October 2016 they moved the gallery to Vienna.

LAURA WINDHAGER did her master's degree in contemporary art theory at Goldmiths in London before working at Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (tba21) and Galerie Hubert Winter in Vienna. In early 2017 she opened her own gallery Gianni Manhattan in the city's third district. 

FRANZISKA SOPHIE WILDFÖRSTER is a curator based in Vienna, where she co-founded the curatorial collective and art space Kevin Space last year. 


Part one of this three-part series on the new Viennese art scene can be found here. Part three is published here!