An interview with Stefan Bidner, Artistic Director and Co-founder of Parallel Vienna – a contemporary art exhibition, which takes place once a year along with the main art fair of Vienna, Vienna Contemporary.
Arminé Maksudyan) What was the starting point behind Parallel Vienna?
Stefan Bidner) Well, the situation itself in Vienna. There are not so many galleries here in Vienna and too little opportunities for young artists. There is really lack of possibilities for them, for example, to show their works in the museum. And even for the established artists – there are few platforms. So this was just the main idea when we found Parallel – to bring a professional platform. It’s an opportunity for all, not only for young positions but also for the established ones. I think it’s important to bring them together.
AM) So one of the initial concepts of Parallel was to connect young and established artist on one platform?
SB) Yes. We have two academies that are permanently producing artists. And in my opinion the main museums are not working very well in this concern, they are too stuck, too inflexible. They are making shows which are presented just in Vienna. They don’t bring these shows abroad. So this is also a big problem. I wonder why. On one hand, at least, we have three or four well-known international artists, like Erwin Wurm, Franz Graf, Gelitin, and on the other hand we have a lot of potential here, a lot of local talents yet to be revealed.
AM) Can Parallel be considered as a bottom-up process?
SB) Absolutely yes
AM) The choice of an abandoned old Post building as a temporary space for contemporary art show was not made by chance at all, was it?
SB) It was a logic solution for the kind of art fair we wanted to make. There are lots of empty spaces here in Vienna that should be used. This was a real luck for us to find a premise like this. I estimate the whole building is of 20.000 square meters (note: exhibition occupies 7.000 square meters, sited on three levels) and it is situated in the 1st district. It was important for us to bring such kind of event to the center. Because, you know, this Viennese audience is very lazy! (laughing).
Vienna is a small city but still it managed somehow to preserve attitudes of a former Imperial city.
AM) Looking back from what you’ve started are there any changes in Parallel Vienna 2016?
SB) We’ve started Parallel 4 years ago. First year it was more or less a project thing, the second was also kind of a project thing. Last year we officially found a company, so we have become more professional. I think this is the way we should develop – be professional but still charming. This is quite a significant step we made.
AM) How does the fair work? Is it easy for an artist to get in?
SB) I am not really against of open calls when everybody can write me asking to participate in Parallel. But since there are many unprofessional artists willing to exhibit here we decided to choose artists by our own. Every year we invite the gallerists, commercial gallerists, project spaces and artist positions to participate. So we make these different parts work together during the fair: artist statement, curatorial statement, gallery statement, project space statement. We have also screening. Video art is also an important part of art production. But it is very difficult to sell it, of course.
AM) Are you expecting a new form of art trade to emerge?
SB) Yes. The same is with performance art. Some of them are very known, but there are in few.
AM) As far as the Viennese art scene is concerned did it experience any changes in these last 4 years?
SB) Well I think so. I suppose we are taking an important part in it since we are parallel to main art fair Vienna Contemporary and we come together. We bring international audience and we bring national and international positions. I think it’s of vital importance for the Parallel that we are inviting 10 independent curators from abroad. So this is a really an essential part of the Parallel, because international audience meets national artist and it develops something. Hopefully
AM) Are there any Italian positions participating this year?
SB) Not yet I think. But we will find something (laughing). You know, I have a “big ear” for everything. I have friends, for instance, in Athens, in Berlin, and I ask them if there is an interesting curator. So it’s working like that. I can not make only my personal suggestions, we are networking. Or somebody that gives me an advice and I trust this advice. So it’s more this way of working rather then picking one by one. In other words, networking is crucial for us. And social media takes an active part in it now. Without this it’s not working anymore.
AM) Does Parallel encourage artists?
SB) Sure. We had this experience already. “Do it yourself” is also a very important part in the Parallel. So, for example, young artists are given a platform but they need to do something by their own and it depends how engaged they are. It combines success I guess.
AM) Can Parallel be considered as an institution then?
SB) It depends on next years’ working situation. But, yes, it’s the aim of Parallel Vienna.
AM) How do you imagine Parallel Vienna in future?
SB) That it becomes a significant part of the art community. There was this kind of a vision that we go abroad with this idea, so the name was already in program – “Parallel”. I can imagine that we make Parallel to Art Basel or to Frieze London. This is the mission, to bring the name and the idea to other cities. It’s a bit parasite idea but I think it’s working. The only important thing is that we maintain a high standard, a high level of what we are doing. If the level is high you can appear everywhere.