New works and art galleries: Gundula Gruber
curated by Daniela Veneri
“It's maybe a niche work, but I still think that's a possibility. I don't want to be the fiftieth art gallery that is just trying to show the same five upcoming artists in Austria. I do want to keep diversity in the gallery, and that's what I'm interested in. So this year I am just focusing on new connections, and maybe there are some new upcoming possibilities; I'm just figuring out opportunities."
- Gundula Gruber
Gundula, what are you currently working on with your art gallery?
This is a new art gallery and I'm trying to emerge from the bottom, and I don't have any investors. I have a possibility to run the gallery without any costs but still need to build up a network. Many galleries who started in earlier times have their connections, know the actors in the field, have some supporting investors, but this is not my case. At the moment, I am trying to figure out how to build up a network without having the possibility to go too fast; I don't know if this is possible, but I have to figure it out anyway. Of course in the background I have some advisors and I'm starting to have connections, but this is just taking a lot of time.
Why did you decide to open an art gallery? What was your intention?
My intention was to test it out; I had the possibility to do it because I have the space. It wasn't a plan to open it during the Covid-19 year, but a friend of mine asked me if I could open it for a week, and it was already a couple of years since I was talking to artists about showing in my gallery and I was negotiating with them already, then I just opened it for my friend for one week and all the artists saw that the gallery was open, and then they asked me if I could just leave it open.
This is more or less how it happened to me.
Opening in 2020 gave me somehow the possibility to show good artists from the beginning, because during the first phase of the pandemic there wasn't much to do anyway, so they agreed to be involved. I have already gained a good reputation with my shows, and that's also a nice opportunity. Even though a show didn't sell and I didn't have many visitors, the reputation of the gallery name has been growing.
What are you mostly proud of the shows that you hosted so far?
I like the diversity of the artists, and what I also like is that I didn't just show selling artists, like other young galleries do. I really took the opportunity to show some difficult things, like installations, sculpture, and things like that.
Now I am hosting my first painting show, with a male artist who is well known in Austria. I'm trying to have a quite good mixture of art now at the gallery, because I also need to sell, but I still like the paintings a lot. I wouldn't take any paintings just because I know they sell, that's what I'm trying to stick to, as long as it's possible. At the beginning I was not sure if I would like to show paintings like those I am showing now, but then I saw these works and I really liked them, as they ask questions about the human condition. When you look at them, what you see at the beginning is that they look very beautiful, but on a second side they make you feel quite uncomfortable and think about our society, and that's what I liked about them and why I show them now. They are good at asking questions.
What do you feel is really driving you in your work with the gallery?
I was thinking about it and I was discussing about it with a well-known curator in Austria, who is also a collector, and I think that even though the gallery is in a very wealthy district of the city, people are not happy here and they are suffering from different kinds of things, so I just was considering to make the gallery really a space to gather together again, for them to come up in the gallery, have the art as a kind of saving here, not only just to buy it but because this is a space where to come together, join artists' talks, concerts, performances, and so on. Church and politics do not work anymore to invite people gathering together, so I thought that if there is a little bit that I could do then I should do it; art is still, at a very high level, a kind of health care service for people, I'm still believing in that.
What do you notice or appreciate most of the interaction that emerges between the visitors, the gallery and the works that are shown?
The kids feeling that they show, at any level they are considering art. I always listen to visitors, if they know a lot about art or not so much, they just seem to open up here, they tell me a lot of things and we talk about a lot of deep stuff, and that's really nice and that's also my intention, that even though people don't like the art, they just start thinking, and I try not to judge and not to interrupt the taste of anything.
Who do you feel are your most important interlocutors and partners in this ongoing process of setting up a new art gallery?
I do not really actually have interlocutors or partners. In the decision process I try to listen to some artists who are older and were longer in the business, who try to tell me what's going on, what's happening. Of course you get sometimes frustrated because it seems like if having connections is the only thing that really counts, but then again I also have to work with the reality here and that's what I'm trying to do. I try to listen, to figure out our reality and try to work with that.
I also have some very experienced curators in the background who always give me advice about artists I should show and how this whole art scene in Vienna is working.
I think it makes sense not to get frustrated and to figure out new things and new ways to make things work, and I listen to everyone, also to potential collectors, what they like, what they miss. I really just listen to as many people as possible, and that's what I'm doing at the moment.
Which of the feedbacks that you have received so far, since the beginning of this adventure, have been particularly meaningful for you or surprised you the most?
It's surprising to me that after this one year with Covid-19, when I only really had three interesting shows, a lot of important people already either contact me or keep watching me, and this happened quite fast. I am missing collectors now, and they keep saying to me that I just have to be patient, because the collectors will come.
What do you notice about how the current arts and culture field relates to the social field? What do you feel needs some attention or change in this particular period of time?
I think that, after these Corona years, this selling online, this hosting meetings online, social media have become more important, and they also are now more accepted. You have to be very present all the time, and everything is really fast.
People working in the arts are often permanently on social media, and they are also very transparent through their online presence. Not being transparent, also about the pricing of an art piece, is over, and I think it just changed totally.
It is not reasonable to just be an art gallery somewhere in Vienna, sit and wait for people coming around; maybe, if you have a bunch of collectors who are your customers, it's nice and they keep your gallery alive, but now things do not improve like that anymore. You have to do a lot more to improve, and being on social media and on different platforms is also a very low cost advertising possibility, which is good I think. Many people are now also buying online, even houses sold at high prices, and I think you should very much consider that possibility as an art gallery as well.
In your experience, what do you feel about what role art galleries are playing, or should play, in the current art and culture landscape? Where do you see opportunities, and where do you see challenges?
It's a really good question, and I'm still trying to figure that out. I've recently read an interview with the founder of a big gallery, and he said that an art gallery has to be a social place again. I do not think that this contradicts what I said a moment ago about online selling, but I think it is important for galleries on one hand to do online selling and be transparent on the social media, to open up to the possibilities to get collectors, but then again also to be a place where collectors can see the artworks in a physical space. The social component of art galleries, after these Corona years, stays also in coming together and talking, and I think this is very important.
What do you feel about the relationship between art galleries and other arts and culture players, like museums or other institutions? What is that you mostly notice of the dynamics in place?
I don't have so much experience right now, but if I think at the relationship with collectors, what I see is that they have to trust you, as you advice them, which is the most important thing when introducing something new to them.
I also think that the relationship between museums and art galleries is quite inspiring, and they could help each other and trust each other. Art galleries could play as advisors for museums, because they are always looking for new artists and they have a lot of connections to artists, which sometimes are like close relationships. Even when big museums have their curators when they set up exhibitions, having the support of art galleries offering these connections and their advice, could be helpful to consider what is possible or not possible with an artist, what sounds like a good idea or a bad idea.
What kind of contribution would you like to offer with your art gallery?
As I already said, I like to show not only decorative, selling art, but to open up to artists that are more difficult to show. It's maybe a niche work, but I still think that's a possibility. I don't want to be the fiftieth art gallery that is just trying to show the same five upcoming artists in Austria. I do want to keep diversity in the gallery, and that's what I'm interested in. So this year I am just focusing on new connections, and maybe there are some new upcoming possibilities; I'm just figuring out opportunities.
What kind of impact do you see emerging from the recent pandemic? How do you feel that this experience is affecting our ways of producing, sharing and experiencing art?
Artists here got some refunds, and museums had I think fifty percent of their visitors missing, and now they have more problems and lower budgets, they had to postpone some shows, and the consequences are still going on. I think it will take two or even three years to just be able to work normally again and to have a budget again for some shows. At the moment, I think the scene is a little bit boring, because they don't have enough money to show interesting things, but some new exhibition are still coming up. Artists worked during the pandemic and now they are able to show again, maybe on a smaller scale but they're still trying to do something; maybe this is happening more underground, which is interesting.
The pandemic didn't impact collectors too much, and some artists even sold more than usual, because there was not much more to do and the galleries could do more appointments with collectors. I couldn't do it because I wasn't established yet, but I think for art galleries it was interesting, that's what I heard.
What do you feel are the most relevant emerging questions in the art field now?
The most relevant questions for me are still the same, not only about visitors numbers, and not only about selling for an art gallery, but also about what is really good art. I think these questions are even more relevant now, after the pandemic break, because it became harder for everyone and things seem to be focused on money again, and I think also public institutions in the field are focusing even more on money issues now, which makes me very sad. There are people who would love to do something different, like performances in young, small museums, but it is a really hard thing to do because there is a lot less funding for museums in general and the small ones do not have a big apparatus behind them, and it's all based on money.
If you were able to change anything in the area of responsibility of the different actors in the arts and culture field, where would you start?
Art galleries have to sell, they are commercial, and that's one thing, but maybe there should be a possibility for young galleries to get funding. Maybe it would be a nice thing to support a quite vital scene with young galleries in a city, it would be very interesting also for collectors.
Museums have a lot of restrictions about what they have to do, the state and the funders tell them what they should do, but then I think they should have more freedom to take some possibilities and do something different, because they would catalyze new ideas; they are now trapped in some ways. Maybe when they get less funding, they have more freedom to do other things.
Then I see how much artists struggle with money, many times it's such a hard life for them, and I would give them a small income, even just to buy some material to work on something. I would do that but you have to start by changing the laws, that's the thing really.
Where do you sense seeds of future around you, in your work?
I'm trying not to look too far in the future, because my intention is clear. Trying to focus on future then becomes overwhelming. I'm just trying to adjust, to run this gallery for three years and then I will reflect on the process, on what happened already and then I will maybe have to change; maybe I will have to give up, I don't know, but until then I just try not to miss any opportunity, and when you are too much focused on the future you just miss opportunities which are happening now, so I'm trying to be playful, to do the work and not miss any opportunities that come up. I would say that intention is more important.
Is there anything that I didn't ask you that is important to you to mention?
You asked questions that I'm thinking of about every day. Maybe the question that is still there is about why are we doing what we do, but I can't answer it. I mean, why are we doing or starting something new in this art scene? Maybe we should do something else, but why are we doing it? When we discuss about it with artists, they just say that they just can't do anything else, and that's what every artist tells me. We have to do what we do somehow and I think that's why we all do it; maybe some people do what they do because their families started and they're just carrying on with it, I don't know, but the question is always about why we are doing what we do.
What are three keywords that resonate with you right now, at the end of this conversation?
I think the key word in this conversation was intentionality, and also freedom.
Gundula Kosch-Gruber was born in Austria and grew up in the Salzkammergut near Salzburg. Her interest in art and philosophy was already evident in her choice of hobbies during her school years. Mainly in the form of reading and founding a reading circle. After graduating from high school and after a one-year stay in London, she attended the College for Fashion and Clothing Technology in Vienna. Afterwards she was a flight attendant for the German airline Aero Lloyd. Four years later, she moved to Vienna to work for Niki Laudas Airline Fly Niki, where she was responsible for the training and quality control of the cabin crew. After two years in Vienna, she started a family and focused on raising her two children. At the same time, she began to study art history at the University of Vienna, where she is now writing her master's thesis on Marcel Duchamp and also has been running the Gallery Gundula Gruber in Vienna for a year now.
Note: This interview was published on Rondò Pilot, issue no. 2.0, 2021.