One of the places that has been very successful with promoting street art and encouraging projects within the city is Inoperable Gallery. The gallery opened in 2006 as a studio space, informational hub and liaison for street artists in Vienna. The space has been welcomed by the young and artistic community of the seventh district and also has developed projects to incorporate street art into the cultural landscape of the city with the support of the government.
While in Vienna in December 2011, I had the pleasure to meet Nathalie Halgand, co-owner of Inoperable Gallery and born and raised in Vienna. She recently took some time to answer a few of my questions on the growth of the street art scene in Vienna...
You grew up in Vienna, Austria, a city that is known for embracing art and culture. How has the urban art scene developed since your childhood?
Well, the urban art scene developed a lot since my childhood. In the 90´s People were painting graffiti in Austria with a focus on American graffiti. Everything was closely connected to the hip hop scene. Slowly, the urban art scene developed and the city gave walls to graffiti artists for painting. Later on, as the street art movement aroused worldwide, a lot was happening also in Vienna. I would say a lot of people did street art for fun, but stopped after some years. Others, but they are very few, can earn their livelyhood with the art they make. We have a lot of artists too coming to Vienna, it is a really enjoyable city with a lot of nice things to discover.
Austria is also famous for spending more of its finances on art then its military. What is it like to live in a place which puts culture before conflict?
I actually recently read that Vienna is the world´s most livable city (http://www.fastcoexist.com/1679127/the-top-10-smart-cities-on-the-planet) and I must say I really enjoyed growing up here, its has developed a lot over the past 10 years and great things are happening in terms of culture and art. We also have fundings for culture, so that is very positive! I love the fact that Vienna was the cultural center of Central Europe in 1900, you can still tell by the beautiful old buildings and the amazing art collections of our museums.
You have an art history degree, are you also an artist?
No, I am an art historian and although I enjoyed the art classes at school the most, today I simply enjoy contemplating, reading and discussing art. It relaxes me and I could not live without it. And working with artists, organizing shows, doing projects, traveling in purpose of the gallery is so much fun! It is exactly what I always dreamt of.
Which artists are some of your favorite?
Well, there are so many! But here is a list, which for sure isn´t complete: I really enjoy the art of Roa, Faile, Herakut, Audrey Kawasaki, Amose, Mizzo, Zoé Byland, Miss Van, JR, AJ Fossik, Ben Eine, Brad Downey...
The Danube is the only river in the world which carries so much diversity along its path. I find it amazing that in Vienna, this river is the centerpiece for an ever changing urban art gallery.
Tell me about the development of the walls of the Danube as a space for murals and graffiti?
Actually, the project called Wiener Wand organized legal spots for graffiti in Vienna. One spot was located along the danube river. Over the years, artists took their freedom, exceeded the limitations, so now, basically, you can see their works all along the danube and it looks great! I would say along with the development of the street art along the canal, the spot actually also got nicer. There are beaches, cafés and restaurants. The location became more lively and it is very pleasant in summer.
Tell me more about the Black River Festival?
It is a festival organized by a friend of ours and takes place one time a year. Artists from all over the world are invited to do projects. It is a good thing someone else is doing projects with street art since it brings a lot of media attention and raises the awareness of street art.
From walking around Vienna, I saw work from one artist in particular whom I have only just learnt of, Knarf. When did Knarf break into the urban art scene in Vienna? And has he gone international?
Yes, Knarf is definitely THE artist to watch out for in Vienna right now. He is a amazingly talented guy, who is really focussed on what he does and pursues his goals. During one year, he drew every day in a sketchbook and released a book about it. You can actually see how he developed, so it is very interesting and gives a good insight into his mind. Knarf has not gone international yet, but he is only 21 and he will definitely start traveling and painting all around the world.
You currently work at Inoperable Gallery, the first and only urban art space in Vienna. How did you come to work in this gallery?
I met my gallery partner through my former boyfriend. I basically plunged into this urban art universe and have learnt a lot about the scene. I always thought I will have two options when I finish my art history studies: either work in a museum or in a gallery, or having my own gallery space. I always thought I would first need a lot of experience before running my own business. But when Nicholas asked me if I would like to be co-owner of INOPERAbLE, I right away said yes and until today, it was the best decision!
Tell me about Inoperable. How did the city and neighborhood react to the gallery?
The people loved the space from the beginning, also because it is so different than other art spaces, much more approachable and we are always happy, when people chat with us and ask us questions. Our neighborhood is a really cool one, almost like a little town, there are a lot of creatives working here, and with it´s many Cafés, bookstores, boutiques, it is very young. We are also not planning to move to an other district since also because the other shop owners are our friends and it feels very homely meeting all these people you know when you are in the street.
Inoperable has been involved in several projects to promote street art.
Tell me more about the Graffiti Alley behind the Museumsquartier and the Naschmarkt projects. The Street Art Passage is a passageway at the back of the Museumsquartier and invited different artists to paint panels which get hung and a magazine comes along. Space Invader designed to bridge permanently. The Naschmarkt project is our most important project right now. We wanted to paint the shutters of the market stands since quite a while, but bureaucracy stopped us from being able to do it. However, we teamed up with Nuriel, who is passionate about street art and runs a very nice restaurant at the Naschmarkt. As he knows all of the other stand owner, he helped us a lot. Basically, the idea behind Shutterland is to invite all these great artists and then, when all the shutters are painted, you can walk along. An outside museum!
I love that Inoperable has put together the map of Vienna, listing graffiti walls and art hot spots. I wonder whether this takes away from the element of surprise at finding street art pieces, what is your take on it ?
If you don´t have a lot of time in Vienna, the map definitely helps you to find the area with the spots. But since street art is ephemeral, there is always change; the art pieces disappear, but there is always something new to discover.
How do you see the future of graffiti art in Vienna? Do you think it has the potential to be another urban art hot spot in Europe?
I think that graffiti and Street Art is a lot more accepted here then it was even one year ago. Over the years, the community grew and the audience is very well informed and educated about urban art. The museums are also doing shows with graffiti and street art, owners of buildings approach us to offer us walls for our artists and the local media is interested! We are working hard on inviting artists to Vienna, so there can be more art in the streets here. I think it does have the potential to be another urban art hot spot in Europe- we know artists always enjoy Vienna and I guess they tell their colleagues how cool it is...but as always, people need a good reason to come here, like festivals or our gallery