Opening a gallery and laying the fundaments of a non-profit organization in 2020 was supposed to be an adventurous but fruitful enterprise. Due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic it came up to be a challenging nightmare which saw the rules of the game changing weekly. All our planning has been renderered null and void.
Nonetheless – We are still here, probably stronger than anticipated. Now as we head full steam ahead into the year 2021 lets recapitulate what the year has meant to us and lets have a look at our achievements and failures.
It all began in 2019 as we started looking for venues to host exhibitions. During this time we learned a lot about the Austrian art & event market…especially that suitable places are rare and unaffordable. Investigating the gallery scene we encountered one disappointment after the other, be it the minimalistic style (where the word minimalistic in the sense of a white cube gallery setup is misinterpreted by Austrian galerists with a sub-basic storage facility design, underlined by loose cables hanging around and blank neon tubes). Another surprising aspect was the total lack of hospitality in these places, whereas a visitor in the role of a potential client would not even be offered a glass of water – nowhere.
Then, in early February 2020, came the revelation with a visit together with a client (in my second mission as real estate professional) to an old building in Vienna’s 19th district, where 2 recently renovated, almost identical floors were up for rent. Walking through one of the floors with my client, an architect, i told him to look at the walls and light fixtures and closed the sentence with “…they would be suitable even for an art gallery or small museum”. After i said this words it struck me. What have I just said? Why I haven’t had this idea earlier? Fortunately for us my client signed the rental agreement a couple of days later for the upper floor and is a welcome visitor to our events at any time.
My words followed me. I started to think about what I said and to calculate. The day after I went and made a video recording which I sent right away to Thomas Emmerling outlining the idea. He instantly agreed and made a stopover in Vienna a couple of days later to have a look at it himself. Some more days and the rental agreement has been signed with April 01st, 2020 as a starting date.
We felt good, having secured a magnificent space with monthly cost of the equivalent of a 1-2 days rent elsewhere in previously investigated spaces. We made plans, calculations, started to talk with sponsors. COVID-19 was still far away. Back then still everybody thought it would be again a SARS like epidemic like the one back in 2003 and it could be contained on a local level. Nobody seriously considered possible the disruptions of our life which were about to follow.
And then came March. We set the opening date of our first exhibition “Global Contemporary” to March 27th, started works on the website and created first plans and invitations to the Vernissage which was about to be a real runner. As news in the media aggravated there was still no sense of what was going to happen. Then by mid March, when WHO categorized the disease to be a pandemic, it gave me a sense of alert. Five days later we have been in lockdown already, caused to the extreme spread from various Austrian Ski resorts (it was high season, the snow was good and the bars were full) from and to neighboring countries.
It was a shock. We would be locked up for a full month. Only food & grocery stores, pharmacies and fuel station to remain open. Nobody knew the rules…those who made the rules didn’t know to apply them too and many have been an exagerration (Many have been lifted by court order in the forthcoming months stating them unconstitutional and ordering compensation payments or the lifting of fines to those affected). We succeeded on the last day before lockdown to purchase all equipment to adapt our space into becoming a gallery and we used the lockdown phase for interior works, adaptations an preparations.
Our opening was cancelled. So was the exhibition due to the impossibility to bring the artworks from Bucharest to Vienna. Empty handed we started to populate the website, social media, launch a YouTube channel and produced videos of Club Meetings which we announced to our fans and friends of the idea (at least everyone was now sitting home to watch). We phoned left and right to promote the idea, to get known and shaped the future little by little. Mood was good – Worst should soon be over!
And then came April. By Easter some stores were allowed to reopen. The light at the end of the Tunnel? Everyone thought so. For us it still meant sitting and intensifying online presence an planning. Now our main problem was…with which exhibition we should open once we can as due to the situation in Romania we still didn’t have any idea how to organize a transport. Instead we started to gather artworks, mostly from Germany, to be shipped to Vienna as our first portfolio items (a part of them were already planned Global Contemporary).
By mid of April small shipments started trickling in with some works by Armin Mühsam, Oana Ionel, Radu Rodideal and Birgit Reiner. At least something to hang and to enjoy, I thought. The breakthrough came when Thomas Emmering called me that he had spoken with a group of female Slovak artists which often exhibit together that they would put together some works to be put on display in Vienna. As the border to Slovakia was closed too we were scratching heads. Thomas mentioned that one of the artists actually lives over the border in Austria so I suggested to find someone from Slovakia who is employed in Austria (exceptions from Quarantine rules have been granted for those) to bring the painting to Austria and leave them at her house. Said, done…a couple of days later it was mission accomplished. I borrowed a transporter from a friend, went to the countryside and came back with an entire exhibition in the back of the car.
To be continued…