Interview: Halle für Kunst Steiermark Curator, Cathrin Mayer

Photography, sculpture and performance art will reinforce the mission of the revitalized Graz, Austria institution

In Graz, Austria, the art institution Halle für Kunst Steiermark now occupies the halls of Künstlerhaus, an architecturally significant space designed by Robert Haueisen and completed in 1952. This new name represents a refresh of Halle für Kunst & Medien, the organization that took over the art hall in 2013. More than a title change, this update supports a new mission that includes an exploration of progressive art and multidisciplinary practices. It’s the institution’s intention to weave together the works of international and local artists and offer their own contribution to the global, critical art dialogue.

Haris Epaminonda, “Chapters” (2013) 16mm transferred to digital, single screen version, sound: Part Wild Horses Mane On Both Sides, courtesy of the artist and Galleria Massimo Minini, Brescia; Casey Kaplan, New York; Rodeo London/​Piraeus

Halle für Kunst Steiermark will open this April with the expansive group exhibition, Europe: Ancient Future, the vision of artistic director Sandro Droschl. Along with Droschl’s contributions, the museum’s recently appointed curator, Cathrin Mayer, will bring to life a succession of thought-provoking exhibits. Her international background aims to balance against Droschl’s command of the local art scene.

“I was born in Vienna but I worked at KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin for almost six years,” Mayer tells us. “I was looking to move on and I had a feeling that I would go back to my home country, because there are so many institutions. I always had Halle für Kunst in mind, because of the pavilion architecture. They were in need of a curator so I just applied.” It was kismet and Mayer landed a position on the small team.

Courtesy of Cathrin Mayer

In addition to the programming, “We are mainly responsible for the content but we also have a broad educational program that my colleague oversees,” she explains. “Sandro and I both propose and curate exhibitions. He wants me to bring international voices to Graz. Since I worked in Berlin and with other European institutions as a freelance curator, I bring in a more international point of view. I have a view from outside.”

Mayer values the nuances of the institution’s mission. “It’s clearly programmed to be a place that allows us to think about the multiplicity of today’s occurrences,” she says. “We address what we think are necessary questions in society, from the place of an artist, in a hopefully intuitive way. For example, I introduced the idea of working with Black American artists, because of the Black Lives Matter movement. I did this because we need to continue the dialogue on a global level and explore its application here.”

Kevin Jerome Everson, “Brown Thrasher” (2020) Video, color, sound, black box, 2:46 min, courtesy of the artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York

Though she’s only begun at Halle für Kunst Steiermark, Mayer dedicates time to understanding the art scene around Graz. “It’s very much like a family because it is small but dynamic,” she explains. “It’s definitely very independent from Vienna, which is the place in Austria for big, traditional institutions. Vienna moves slower and doesn’t always embrace the experimental and spontaneous. That’s what drew me to Graz.”

Armin Lorenz Gerold, “Evil Waters,” production still, 2020/2021, courtesy of  Armin Lorenz Gerold

Graz also has a legacy of its own. “In the ’80s and ’90s, people like the German painter Martin Kippenberger came here to form a community. We were also connected to Cologne, which was an artistic center at the time. We’ve continued to develop upon all of this. There’s a consciousness of art among the people here.”

The audiences in Graz allow Mayer to take risks. “I am going to curate a performance in a Catholic church,” she says. “In Vienna, this would have been a challenge, but here there’s the capability to pursue this. People are supportive.” For this performance, musician and dancer Billy J Bultheel will great soundscapes that engage in a dialogue with the church’s architecture. This work will focus on our shifting social lives and will be streamed in November.

Billy J. Bultheel, The Minutes of Olomouc PAF Olomouc, 2020 Photo: Monika Abrhámová

Mayer will also present an exhibition dedicated to experimental filmmaker Kevin Jerome Everson this fall. “He’s more known in the film world, from the Berlinale and other big festivals. I saw one of his films in Stockholm, Tonsler Park. It was black and white, and an hour long. The 60mm film gave it this textural impression. And there was no sound. In a way, there was nothing happening, but also so much happens,” she says. Halle für Kunst Steiermark’s exhibit will feature a large selection of Everson’s films.

“When I proposed Kevin’s show, I also wanted to think about what it would mean to fill this pavilion, its architecture, with images of only Black people,” Mayer continues. “I want the Black people in this town to feel represented. I want to make space for all communities.”

I want something lively, for regular audiences and for those who have never seen art before

As with most curators, a driving force of Mayer’s vision is to inspire. “I am interested in working with space,” she says, “in the sense that I am really not so interested in painting. I am very interested in the experience of the viewer, an immediate physical experience. I feel very drawn to big installations—and work from performance artists. This bourgeois idea that art is something that hangs on the wall is of no interest to me. I want something lively, for regular audiences and for those who have never seen art before.”

Doreen Garner, “Red Rack of those Ravaged and Unconsenting” (2018) Stainless steel bars, fluorescent lights, wiring, silicone, insulation foam, glass beads, fiberglass insulation, steel hooks, steel pins, pearls, 162.56 x 288.93 x 81.28 cm, courtesy of the artist and JTT, New York

And aligned with this welcoming approach to art, Halle für Kunst Steiermark will offer free admission to all when they open as this new iteration.

Hero image courtesy of Halle für Kunst Steiermark