Once upon a time Australian artists could only learn what was going on in Europe when their mates returned from a trip. “In the ’60s, somebody would go overseas and come back and tell their friends about it,” says Jonny Niesche, a Sydney-based artist whose European career is on the make. “You’d see everyone’s style change, and be affected by this one person’s influences.”
But now it’s much easier for artists like Niesche to make the pilgrimage in person – even a couple of times a year. “I go back to Europe a few times a year at the moment,” he says. “It’s so good to have Europe as a bouncing board. To broaden your horizons and have your international dialogues. I think it’s really important to keep those relationships going.”
Niesche also spent a seven-month stint in Vienna following his Masters at the Sydney College of the Arts, training under Heimo Zobernig at the Academy of Fine Arts. Now whenever Niesche is in Europe he visits both contemporary galleries as well as the city institutions with works by European masters.
“You go into any regular city gallery in Europe and you’ve the most amazing artworks to choose from, from throughout history, that you just don’t see in Australia. We have a small collection of things here – some of which are fantastic – but in Europe it’s just endless.”
For those who want to follow in his footsteps, we asked Niesche for his top art picks when planning a trip to Europe.
König Gallery – Berlin, Germany
König’s founder, Johann König, is art-world royalty. His father, Kasper, was the director of the Museum Ludwig in Cologne and began the Skulptur Projekte in Münster, and his uncle Walther is the guy behind Buchhandlung Walther König, the peerless art bookstore and publisher. “There’s a massive family knowledge base,” says Niesche.
One reason he visits König every time he’s in Berlin is to be close to this knowledge, and because he just loves the space: “a massive, beautiful old church”. Another is the gallery’s remarkable stable of artists, which includes some of the best minimalism has to offer: Anselm Reyle, Claudia Comte and the always-entertaining Erwin Wurm.
T293 – Rome, Italy
This gallery started life in the heart of Naples at the Via dei Tribunali. Founder Paola Guadagnino put the gallery on the map by supporting young and emerging artists and these days it is housed in a former metal-storage facility in the molto fashionable neighbourhood of Trastevere in Rome.
“It’s an incredibly beautiful space, and the program is exceptional,” says Niesche. Three of his favourite artists regularly exhibit in the space: New Zealander Simon Denny, sculptor Helen Marten and mixed-media artist Martin Soto Climent.
Zeller Van Almsick – Vienna, Austria
“Vienna at the moment has a really burgeoning art scene,” says Niesche. “It’s going nuts, just gangbusters.” But there’s one gallery here Niesche likes so much he decided to become part of its stable: Zeller Van Almsick.
Founded by architects Cornelis van Almsick and Magdalena Zeller, the gallery initially had no fixed address, shifting from city to city. Now it has a permanent home on Franz-Josefs-Kai, where it shows new work from Anna Jermolaewa, Kay Walkowiak and, of course, Jonny Niesche. “They’re upstairs in this really nice old apartment gallery space, with a parquet floor,” says Niesche. “And they’ve got great artists.”
First opened in 2005, Standard primarily features top-class Norwegian artists but also brings internationals to Oslo audiences. “I think these guys, forgive the pun, set the standard for the way a contemporary art gallery’s program can be,” says Niesche. Its stable of 26 artists includes stars such as Matias Faldbakken, Gardar Eide Einarsson and Emily Wardill.
What Niesche admires most about Standard is its exacting commitment to presenting its artists’ work: “From what I understand, their standard of presentation, in terms of their photography and documentation, makes them one of the galleries everyone all over the world looks to emulate.”
Massimo De Carlo – Milan, Italy
Massimo De Carlo in Milan first opened in 1987 and since has established itself as a force in the art and opened satellite galleries in London and Hong Kong.
Over the course of 30 years the gallery has been working on shows that are on par with exhibitions in the big institutions, showing work by Alighiero Boetti, Rudolf Stingel, Maurizio Cattelan, and Yan Pei-Ming. “Again, there’s an amazing stable of artists and a really beautiful space,” says Niesche. “And a really rigid program.”