“And what about the artist?”

Markus Mittringer speaks with Peter Noever

MM: What is “the artist” today? As in all other areas of life, only the successful exponents of the breed seem to make it into the public consciousness. But that begs the question: In what “public consciousness?”

PN: In a day and age where nearly everything seems to be spinning out of control and bursting at the seams, a winning smile alone probably won’t cut it anymore. Art today, here, and now can’t simply ignore the things going on around us, some of which are truly dramatic. What we need once again is a contemporary act—now!

MM: Is the “contemporary act” something like a method?

PN: Not really. It’s more percept than concept. I view it as an act that’s in keeping with the true essence of art, born of free thinking; as an act that’s infused with elements of surprise, of the fresh and the new.

And capturing just such a contemporary phenomenon for a brief moment is what I’m after in showing the 13 selected works in this extremely lavish ambiance of the Winter Palace. If we want to advance the “project of art”—which is, after all, the real challenge—we need a commensurate potential in terms of radicalism that never shies away from an experiment. And that’s what we mean when we talk about contemporary stances. In this sense, such an art presentation doesn’t necessarily limit itself to showing the known and the familiar, and ideally, it opens up new perspectives, new vantage points.

MM: One feeling you often sense when visiting people’s studios is resignation. It causes artists either to withdraw or to cave in to market pressures, and it ends up producing mere variations on successful models, at best. Artists are frequently no longer even able to sit back and question what they do.

PN: Artists can and absolutely must question things, which is effective when they don’t allow themselves to be misled—or worse, anaesthetized—by the present.

MM: Does “effective” mean subversive here? And/or just radically independent?

PN: It’s the role of the artist today that I am and always have been about.

MM: A role model is always something that’s set up by an outside entity (“society”), and/or it gets reconstructed and interpreted after the fact by historians. But when artists define their own “roles”—how does that happen? Do they start from their own attitudes as a model? From t he public sphere beyond the work itself? From a lternative networks? Whatever the case, what’s needed is a radical questioning of the idea of “career,” the removal of the usual direct route into the auction market via hip venues and hip curators. And: Mustn’t one also work to at least reorient the so-called collectors? We’ve seen sets of instructions on “how to collect the right way” experience a boom, and most of these serve to uphold the status quo. So the “profile” of the “collection” that predictably results is like a coloring book—everything’s predetermined. A ll that’s left to do is to simply acquire works from the right dealer and everything will be fine: artists will love you, you’ll get invited to evening receptions, and you’ll be viewed not only as successful but also as a “committed connoisseur.”

PN: Art, art life , the notion of art, the pressure to attract audiences, established institutions, tendencies toward uniformity and conformity, the arrogance of bureaucrats, the coldness of intolerance, statistics, cost-benefit thinking … and what about the artist, who’s where it all starts, who’s the inspiration and motif of this gigantic, worldwide project? The situation is hair-raisingly lopsided!

MM: Fear is often what ends up determining things—the fear of doing something wrong: of choosing the wrong place, the wrong medium, the wrong voice. The prevailing strategy seems to be more “How do I get in” than “How do I break out.”

PN: If we look at the pictures by Ignace-Jacques Parrocel in the Hall of Battle Paintings at the Winter Palace, for example, or at paintings held by Madrid’s Prado, we’ll see that, in a strange way, painting can make violence tolerable—especially after a great deal of time has passed.

MM: Painting downplays, objectifies, focuses things—or: painting is every bit as able to lull us to sleep as is propaganda that makes violence seem harmless. The only question that remains, then, is that as to what ideas—or patrons—this impressive instrument is put in service of … and neither artists nor architects are particularly squeamish on that count.

PN: It’s my conviction that “take it easy” is a fitting credo neither for art nor for its presentation, such as at an “exhibition.” And the intention behind this exhibition at the Winter Palace is also to have the 13 invited artists not just show objects from the vault , but instead take on the here and now—particularly as regards this special site—by making full use of all means at their disposal.

MM: Markus Mittringer
PN: Peter Noever

Vienna for Art’s Sake!
Archive Austria/Contemporary Art
Winter Palace | 27 February to 31 May 2015

The exhibition Vienna for Art’s Sake! will once again see the lavish atmosphere of the former residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy juxtaposed with contemporary art in order to open up new perspectives for visitors. 161 miniature-format works from the “Archive Austria” section of Luciano Benetton’s collection Imago Mundi will be exhibited in the Sala terrena of the Winter Palace. Additionally, 13 artists will be invited to put their respective artistic spins on one room each at the Winter Palace. This project will thus see artists including Eva Schlegel, Iv Toshain, Manfred Wakolbinger, Hans Kupelwieser and Magdalena Jetelová deal artistically with these baroque spaces.