Interview with Laura Windhager, founder of the gallery Gianni Manhattan in Vienna
Laura Windhager’s ambition for her newly opened gallery Gianni Manhattan is motivated by an interest in joining forces and collaborating by sharing resources and knowledge with others in the burgeoning art scene in Vienna. In the past two years many new project spaces and galleries have opened and the times seem right for new ideas.
Tell us about the origins of your gallery. What inspired you to open a gallery?
After coming back from studying Contemporary Art Theory at Goldsmiths in London, I noticed an absence of young galleries in Vienna and I wanted to change this. For a long time I was unsure whether to open a project space or a gallery – what won me over towards the gallery model was that I prefer long term collaboration with artists as opposed to a single show in a project space.
Gianni Manhattan acts also a publishing house, focussing on artist’s writings, and we organise screenings and talks alongside our exhibition schedule. I want the gallery to be a cooperative, sustainable, educational and communicative space that also provides economic stability for my artists.
What brought you to contemporary art in the first place?
I started studying molecular biology –don’t ask– then art history and later art theory. I concentrated my thesis on discourses around immaterial and digital labour in contemporary art. In the beginning, art and art practices were a means for thinking about philosophy and a catalyst for my writing. At some point, this prioritisation dissolved and they became an equal concern.
What does the name of your gallery come from?
I never wanted to open a gallery that was named after myself. I always liked the idea of a nom de guerre, such as the artist collective and gallery Reena Spauldings in New York for example.
Gianni Manhattan stems from a family story, and I loved the name because of its associative nature, it really could be anything. I want the shows that happen here to be about working together, about telling a story together, so Gianni Manhattan sounded much more like the pseudonym I was looking for, that adapts itself depending on the project we are working on.
How would you characterize the artists you work with? What connects the artists you represent?
Each and every artist I work with are spearheads in their thinking and their work. At the moment I would say the thread that connects each practice is a shared concern for the world we live in: questions surrounding the environment, sexuality and gender, language and marginalisation, the nonlinearity of history. What combines all their practices is this need to find better metaphors, more openness and better questions (to quote Rebecca Solnit here).
How do you decide to add a new artist?
I think, their works have to resonate with me, they need to fascinate me. I like artists that do not shy away from asking uncomfortable questions, that challenge aesthetics.
Can you describe the art scene in Vienna?
You really feel an atmosphere of change, a lot of excellent project spaces (such as Kevin Space, Pina, and our neighbours Mauve) as well as young galleries have opened in the last two years. I think it was important that these spaces all opened more or less simultaneously, which accelerated the dynamics and generated attention.
From my experience, it is a very fruitful coexistence of established galleries such as Hubert Winter, Rosemarie Schwarzwälder and Emanuel Layr and the emerging galleries. Vienna is a small city, but since everyone works internationally today, this is not a bad thing, it creates a density and an exchange that had been missing here.
What about institutional support? How do you seek their attention as a young gallery?
I was lucky enough to have been working in a renowned Viennese gallery before, which enabled me to meet directors and curators of international and local museums and foundations, and most of them are very interested in what is happening at Gianni Manhattan.
On the other hand, my peers from Goldsmiths five years ago have now all launched their careers as curators, directors and art writers, so that of course has become helpful.
How do you see the role of a gallery today?
What I find most interesting is how you can think about galleries aside from their purely commercial function. The fluidity of programming, reacting to artists’ needs much more quickly than in an institutional setting, working so closely and intimately together, forging alliances and friendships with artists, creating a multidisciplinary educational program around the shows we build are the most important aspects.
What has been the biggest challenge in opening and running your own gallery?
With such an ambitious program that spans from production to curating to education and publishing, money is always an issue. But then again, this concern probably effects every institution, every gallery, every artist run space and I think it is possible to create a good program on an even smaller budget.
Another challenge has been that up until recently Gianni Manhattan was a one person team. It has been very challenging coordinating everything because obstacles can take many different forms but I owe a lot to the collaborators of this project because their positive input help my ambitious plans to move forward.
Is there someone who influenced you in a particular way?
The influences vary: There are galleries with an exhibition and publishing agenda such as Arcadia Missa or the collective project of Reena Spauldigs that I mentioned earlier that I find interesting. There are writers, such as Sara Ahmad, Ursula K. Le Guin and Margaret Atwood that strongly influence my thinking.
How do you see your gallery in a decade?
I think that the gallery model for emerging galleries will drastically change in the course of the next few years. Consequently, I don’t think Gianni Manhattan will exist in the same form and format as it does now. We currently see waves of young and emerging gallery closures and I strongly believe that the emerging gallery scene needs to find solutions for that.
I don’t believe in a purely digital space and online sales, but I do believe in space sharing solutions and I am not talking about these converted warehouses filled with start-ups that gentrify whole areas. I am more thinking of sharing space as commons, of joining forces, sharing resources and knowledge and ultimately contributing to a better, collaborative program that still allows for the individual artists and galleries to coexist.
Finally, which artists are you showing at Paris Internationale?
It will be a duo presentation, showing new works by Nils Alix-Tabeling and Matthieu Haberard. The presentation will loosely orientate itself on the topic of skin, how it demarcates the border between interior and exterior, the constitution of subjectivity, a consideration of the skin as a site where bodies take form, both a boundary and a point of connection.
Gianni Manhattan will take part in the Paris Internationale in Paris from October 18th to 22th 2017.
Wednesday to Friday: 12am–6pm