Independent Art Consultant and young collector Elmerice Habsburg-Lothringen, who moved from Vienna to London, talks about her collection and Vienna.
How did you end up working in the art world? Was it something you planned to do, were you surrounded by art since your early days?
In my father’s family (my grandparents and great-grandparents) we had a few painters but my parents themselves were more into music rather than visual art. Even though nobody really collected art in my direct family, I bought my first paintings when I was 18. I always knew that I wanted to surround myself with art and dreamt of working for a corporate collection (like Deutsche Bank), my parents however encouraged me to study something more “reasonable” and I found to the art world crabwise.
Who was your first art advisor?
I never had an art advisor but a friend and mentor of mine was very important in the development of my taste and curiosity – leading me towards video art and conceptual art – which was completely alien to me. He was also the one who offered me my first job in the art world and I am still collaborating with his art foundation up until today.
What is important to develop good taste? And is there even such a thing as good taste when it comes to contemporary art?
There is no getting away from the fact that art is a subjective area of knowledge. This means that views on what is good art and bad art vary from individual to individual as well as from society to society and depend on what you are actually exposed to. Luckily we all have different tastes, else every collection would look exactly the same – one person’s treasure can be another’s garbage. English art critic Jonathan Jones asserted, “bad taste is nothing but good taste after a few years of aging”.
How would you describe your collection to someone who’s never seen it?
I think this is impossible… My personal collection is an assemblage of various mediums; subject matter is not important; an eclectic mix ranging from minimalist geometric art and textile collages to abstract paintings. Personally I collect very differently from how I work with my collectors. Sometimes I have bought an artwork to support an artist or a gallery but not because I particularly loved it. Though of course I had to like it enough to buy it.
Which artists do you have in your collection and how do you choose them?
My collection started with a shrill work by Robert Hammerstiel (Yugoslavia/Austria) from the 1980s. A shocking and flashy Manhattan impression that reminded me of my first trip to New York City. Hammerstiel rediscovered color and simplified forms radically. He presents spaces in a new way, renouncing all the secondary, reducing form to the essential. A few years later I added my first video art installation by Swiss artist Nadia Berri to a handful of artworks in my posession and since then I have been heavily addicted to art.
Some of my favorite Eastern European acquisitions are by Egle Jauncems (Lithuania – she is graduating from London’s Royal College of Art this year and I hope we will see a lot of her), Diet Sayler (Romania), and Sigma1 Group (Romania). I also have a mix of artists from Austria, like Flora Hauser, Simon Mullan, Kevin Rausch, as well as more international artists such as Guy Yanai (Israel) or Antony Gormley (UK).
What is contemporary Vienna for you?
Built on the foundations of European history and culture, Vienna has regained its former glory and transformed into a young and vibrant city with trendy restaurants, boutique designers, and various trending startups, turning Vienna into one of the most affluent cities in the world.
If you bring someone who is interested in contemporary art with you to Vienna, what are your recommendations? What are the “musts”?
I tend to give them a list of my favorite galleries and “mandate” them to visit viennacontemporary. In the last few years we have seen some new galleries joining Vienna’s contemporary art scene and I would definitely encourage collectors to visit some of the new as well as the established galleries. However, you cannot leave Vienna without having been to the Vienna Secession, mumok, Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, 21er Haus, and Sammlung Sanziany at Palais Rasumofsky. My absolute admiration however goes to a private collection one hour from Vienna at Schloss Buchberg. viennacontemporary facilitated access to this marvelous “Kunstraum” last year and I would encourage any serious collector to go there if they get a chance.
What is your favorite building in Vienna?
This is a tough one. I love the buildings along the Linke Wienzeile (you can see them best from within the Naschmarkt) designed by Austrian Art Nouveau architect Otto Wagner. Another favorite spot of mine is Michaelerplatz with its mixed architecture of the Hofburg, Looshaus and Palais Herberstein.
What about Viennese people, how do you describe them to someone who has never been to the city?
I would describe Viennese people as a straight-forward and grumpy on the outside, but warm-hearted and cheerful on the inside with a chunk of black humor. The Norwegian artist Per Dybvig made a series of illustrations walking through Vienna for his “Vienna Drawing Book” in 2010, which I think has captured the characters and personas of Vienna quite well.
Living in London, do you miss anything about Vienna?
What do you always bring back as a souvenir from Austria?
Mozartkugeln or Ferrero’s Mon Chéri, Käsekrainer, my mother’s home made elderflower cordial and after summer I always bring back handpicked dried porcini mushrooms from Carinthia.
Vienna has been selected as the most livable city for the 8th time this year. What makes it the best place to live in in your opinion?
Vienna benefited enormously from the fall of the Berlin Wall, becoming the gateway to Eastern European countries that often have historic ties to the former Austro-Hungarian empire. It is therefore a very diverse city and comparable to none – a true mixture of the East and the West.
The list of pros is endless. I am just trying to convince my husband to leave London and move to Vienna. The quality of life is enormously high in Vienna and the city offers a thriving economy, beautiful countryside with vineyards almost within the city, cultural diversity, amazing food, and some of the best museums world-wide. In addition, educational facilities are efficient and available to all – something worth considering for all those planning a family. I am a frequent traveller and have been to numerous enjoyable cities – whenever I visit Vienna, I am enamored by its gorgeous architecture. I have lived in Vienna for a couple of years before moving to London but being away from my home country for so long makes me appreciate it even more.
This year for the eighth time, Vienna was named the world’s top city for quality of life. We asked some Viennese art professionals who live abroad if they see changes in Vienna and what they love the most about the Austrian capital. Read other interviews here