Paintings for the People

The Kunstsupermarkt Lets Everyone Join the Game of Art Collecting With a Non-exclusive Shopping Concept

On The Town | Isabella Vatter | December 2007 / January 2008

Eager visitors scan the aisles for a good buy on opening night at the Kunstsupermarkt. (Photo: Courtesy of Kunstsupermarkt)

We all go shopping at supermarkets.

We scan the aisles filled with colorful cans, brightly labeled bottles and a variety of fresh produce. We might have a meal in mind, meticulously planned, harmonious yet surprising, visually pleasing and not too heavy.

Or we might buy on impulse, something that appeals at the moment, catching our attention through perfect form, color, tactility or composition.

Shopping for art is definitely not part of a daily routine. Buying an original work of art is an expensive venture and thus sadly reserved for the well-to-do, or the just plain stinking rich.

But those lucky few can go about their shopping in the same way that we mere mortals buy our food. In general, a new work should underline and complement a collection that is subject to a certain strategy such as accumulating pieces of an era or of a specific artist. And sometimes even the most stiff and conservative collector will experience love at first sight and feel the urge to possess a work right here, right now.  Either way, ordinary people were not part of the somewhat elitist but exciting game of art acquisition, until now!

Last week, the first Viennese Kunstsupermarkt (Art Super Market) stocked its aisles, polished the price tags and opened its doors to the public. And yes, that means everyone! Developed over ten years ago by Mario Teres, the concept is simple yet striking. With a good, accessible location and low prices, fine art can sell. Their motto: making art affordable.

The modern passage at Mariahilferstrasse No. 103 in Vienna’s 6th District leads past a stylish sushi restaurant and a young fashion store. At the end of the passageway, a gleaming red and black sign guides visitors inside the glass-fronted shop. One finds the check-out to the left, where one can also pick up a catalogue and a basket. The rooms are clean, even sterile, and the only objects are sporadic, cobbled shelves on which rows and rows of canvases wrapped in plastic stand  in waiting.

The walls too are crammed full of paintings, wasting not a centimeter of presentation space. The oversized, prominent price tags are everywhere, showing one of four standard prices (€50, €99, €199, €299). Moving through the three white rooms, it becomes clear that the majority of works are paintings on canvas with only a few photographs or drawings. You can browse the artworks in the shelves by flipping through the pile, a little like the cheap poster stands at cinemas.

The selection varies, but all are decorative rather than challenging – styles range from pop images to traditional portraiture, from small-scale black and white photography to a ten-piece oil painting of an oversized giraffe. These are pieces to please the eye and add some interest to apartment walls, an opportunity to have an original rather than a movie poster or an Ikea print.  "The works are selected to meet the demands of the mass market," explains Teres, which is also why the styles are so diverse.

But the Art Supermarket is also good for the artists. The participants have the opportunity to exhibit their newest work in a setting where it is viewed by many; some 20,000 visitors a year are expected.

This prospect has brought over 2,000 applications each year at the Frankfurt and Berlin markets, for example, from which they select approximately 75 artists. For the Viennese supermarket, 65 artists were chosen from Germany, England, Spain, even South America, and ten Austrian artists were specifically integrated.

The concept of the Art Supermarket is a modern one, moving away from the elitist exclusiveness of galleries and towards meeting the needs and desires of the broad masses. "We are dynamic and flexible and interested in providing customers with a rational price for good works of art," Teres claims confidently. The only question that remains is whether quality makes way for quantity.  "We don’t think that artistic quality is lost at all; we simply avoid the elitist judgment of others that art is only great if it is highly selective and presented in a white cube environment."

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