Vienna Riesenrad, Photo: Nikolaus Gansterer
Claimed to be the “City of Music”, Vienna attracts millions of people to visit locations such as the Staatsoper and the Musikverein and to trace the heritage of Mozart, Mahler, Beethoven, Strauss and Schoenberg. Few of them know that Vienna has, in the last decade, become a vibrant place with a contemporary art and music scene both operating (due in part to the size of the country) on an international level. With nearly 2 million citizens, the Austrian capital, sitting on the banks of the Danube is more than ever a cultural melting pot between East and West European influences. Nikolaus Gansterer takes you on a tour to some of the vital nodes of Vienna.
Sound / Music Clubs
The Flex, sited along the Vienna Donaukanal, with its impressive sound system was for a long time the club in town. Meanwhile, a list of interesting alternative venues have popped up.
First up is Fluc, partly run by the Austrian sound artist collective dynamo, it is located on the Praterstern. By hijacking a vacant underpass the innovative architectonic concept created two unique spaces; the Fluc Cafe and the Fluc Wanne. Curated exhibitions in and the around the Fluc, regular Dj line ups plus all sorts of cultural activity paired with excellent bookings of big acts made this place one of the major venues in town. Especially in the warmer months (April till September), it’s an excellent spot to hang out - on the integrated terrace under the Plane tree with a view of the spinning Big Wheel (Riesenrad) of Vienna.
Very close by, located in a former Seventies spa, is the Pratersauna, which has turned out to be the meeting spot for the all-night-long party crowd which also offers a small outdoor swimming pool to eventually cool down hot-heads!
If you are more into first class world and jazz music you should definitely visit the Porgy and Bess. Covered in red velvet, the former porn cinema was turned, more then ten years ago, into most definitely the best jazz club in town. Another important spot is the theatre Brut at the Karlsplatz. By co-producing shows of local and international acts it has become a breeding place for a rather diverse universe - offering a mixed program between theatre, performance art and music. Upstairs you will find the nice and super smoky Bar Brut.
A quite exceptional music initiative is the Amann Studio Sessions, regularly hosted by sound engineer Christoph Amann at his own studio. The program reads as the who’s who of the Austrian music improvisation scene plus a range of international guests. Offering space only for a small audience I most like the intimate atmosphere plus the fact that all the concerts are directly recorded. Other essential nods in the vibrant sound and music scene are initiatives like the Rhiz Bar, the charming Echoraum, the Velak Gala or the activities by the social fabric of the klingt.org community.
After the psychedelic Ton um Ton record store surprisingly closed its doors last year, which was a kind of heaven for all 60/70s vinyl hunters, there still remains a number of well-stocked record stores. Rave Up, which has for more than twenty years been the institution for independent, experimental and electronic music in town. Run by a collective of friendly music lovers you will find the latest releases plus rarities on vinyl or CD tha you may have been searching for, for quite a while.
Also, a good place for music lovers (and a bit more spacious) is the Substance record store in the Westbahnstrasse 16. Very rare vinyl and shellacs (from jazz to strange radio plays) can be found at the family run record store Teuchtler in the Hofmuehlgasse 1. A real treasure trove!
Firstly, next to a ubiquitous branch of a Walther Koenig bookstore located directly in the Museumsquartier is the Lia Wolf bookstore in the Baeckerstrasse 2.
At the Salon fuer Kunstbuch in the Mondscheingasse 11, you can find rare artist books. Started as an art project by Bernhard Cella, the Salon was opened in 2007 and became a venue for underdog and clandestine activities, exhibiting and providing a platform for self-published art in printed form. The focus is on a dialogue with current art book productions from European contexts and beyond. Here you can meet with artists, editors, publishers, graphic artists and authors who are invited to participate in open discussions and book presentations.
Every exhibition cumulatively intensifies this very specific book space by increasing the number of artworks and re-staging them. Most of the books are available for purchase.
Next to Vienna's world reputation of being a place for music I would rather argue it is the city of café culture: Definitely it is a key place to understand the culture of Vienna. Still a popular meeting place for everybody it is a kind of expanded living room and often a working place for writers. You are not only able to get in the groove of the so called Viennese slowness but you can firstly taste the variety of coffees (from “Melange” and “Verlaengerter” up to “Einspaenner”) and then delve into the rich creamy cake culture. To name a few of my favourite places: the very central Cafe Prueckl is more than a hundred years old and located at the Stubenring across from the Museum of Applied Arts. It’s very spacious with a beautiful fifties style, pink wallpaper and incredibly delicious poppy pear cakes! Cafe Anzengruber is run by a Croatian family and is a central institution within the hip Schleifmuehlgasse. A meeting point for artists and intellectuals, you should go for a savory Wiener Schnitzel or Goulash. Cafe Jelinek is claimed to be the meeting point for the off-theatre scene, wonderfully run down with dodgy old yellow nicotine smoked wallpapers. Cafe Urania, is a legendary late night cafe opening around 8pm and closing when the last guests leave, mostly around 5-6 am. It’s a sure-fire place to meet young night owls as well as some of the old lost souls of Vienna.
If you are more into reading books, sipping coffee and having a bite too I could very well suggest you check out the Cafe Phil. With a well assorted selection of books, public readings, Dj sets and marvellous breakfasts it has become a good meeting point. Talking about good places for having breakfast one should not forget to mention Cafe Moebel, where you sit on freaky Austrian designer furniture, which are all for purchase, so that after having had your coffee you might walk home with a new chair!
Formerly the imperial riding stables (or “garage of the emperor”), the area became the Museumsquartier - one of the largest cultural quarters in Europe. Now MQ contains a wide mix of cultural institutions, restaurants, cafés and bookshops that range from highbrow art institutes like the Kunsthalle Wien and the Mumok (Museum of Modern Art) to curious stores like Subotron, a mecca for old school computer games.
Since 2003 the MQ is also the home base of the exceptional initiative Tonspur (German for “soundtrack”) which is located in one of its very frequented passages. Curated by Georg Weckwerth this format puts its main focus on sound work in public spaces. Artists from around the world are invited to develop multi channel sound works and sonic architectures especially for the location. The affiliated exhibition program Tonspur_expanded hosts live performances, lectures and talks engaging a broader audience with the idea of sound as a malleable plastic medium in contemporary art.
Once you start scouting the Vienna art world you will find, close to the MQ neighbourhood, major players like the Secession and the Generali Foundation plus a nice list of good galleries for contemporary art like Galerie Meyer Kainer, Galerie Georg Kargl and Galerie Andreas Huber. More can be found by heading towards the Stephansdom which marks the historical city centre, where you should definitely pay a visit to the Galerie Rosemarie Schwarzwaelder and the Galerie Krinzinger.
When studying art in Vienna in the Nineties there were only a few offspaces in town. Now, next to the main gallery circus, is a list of nice experimental spaces established in the last few years. Protagonists like Auto, ve.sch, Saprophyt, Open Space, Magazine, Glockengasse, Praterstrasse, Bell Street, Jennyfair, Coco or Das Weisse Haus make the art scene a vibrant place with all their activities. To show the diversity of these places here are two of them highlighted:
Coco, located in a passage at the Bauernmarkt in the city centre, is a joint project created and run by curator Severin Duenser and artist Christian Kobald. Through precisely curated group shows with an elaborated theoretical background, their program often surprises with a remarkable list of less well known international artists. At openings, the resident cook Schorsch Boehme can be found serving delicious hearty meals. On Fridays the Coco Bar is a good place to start weekend.
Das Weisse Haus was founded in 2007 by Alexandra Grausam and Elsy Lahner. Since then, Das Weisse Haus has been dealing with various locations. The program and the many forms of presentation have responded to these changes and spatial situations. Their main concern is giving young Austrian artists a platform to interact with new audiences and temporarily empty spaces.
After having occupied locations at Westbahnstrasse in the 7th district or an old Palais in the 1st district, they stumbled upon an empty office building of the Social Ministry in the 5th district. Curious which location they will move to next!
The Vienna Naschmarkt is claimed to be the exact place where the Balkans start. Divided into two sections I would call it the heart of Vienna - one part is famous for its buzzing cafes, deli stalls and vegetable and fruit sellers, where as the other section is home to the biggest flea market in Vienna. Saturdays are always crowded but it is a good place for hunting weird commodities, listening to the polyphony of languages and watching the Viennese people: actually, it is there I always have the sensation you can get an idea of the gene pool of this city which is deeply rooted in the population of the fallen Habsburg monarchy.
Nikolaus Gansterer lives and works in Vienna. He studied art at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna and finished his postgraduate studies at the Jan van Eyck Academy, Maastricht. He is now lecturer at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna at the Institute for Transmedia Art. He runs the label Transacoustiuc Research and co-founded the sound collective “The Vegetable Orchestra” which has dedicated its work extensively to sounds made by plant instruments. Recently they released their new album “Onionoise” (Transacoustic Research/ Rough trade).
In his visual work Nikolaus Gansterer focuses on mapping processes emerging out of cultural and scientific networks unfolding their immanent structures of interconnectedness. He has an ongoing practice of live drawing performances in collaboration with various musicians where his drawing can become scores, diagrams and instructions for taking action.
Being totally fascinated by the complex character of drawing, in 2011 Nikolaus Gansterer will publish his book ”Drawing a Hypothesis” (Springer Wien/New York) on the ontology of shapes of visualizations, and how the diagrammatic view has developed and is used in contemporary art, science and theory.