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John Silvis (JS): How would you describe The Kotanko Collection?

Cordula Kotanko (CK): Our collection is foremost a personal passion. We enjoy how art stimulates our mind and our soul. We collect a wide variety of art yet the common pattern is that it needs to touch, sometimes challenge us. That has been true from the very beginning of us collecting and is even more important for us today. Our collection has evolved over time, just as we have grown. We specifically seek to immerse ourselves in the art around us that has a personal connection.

Bernhard Kotanko (BK):

Bernhard Kotanko (BK):We started collecting emerging artists, typically works that attracted us visually and artists that expressed a strong passion for new ideas. Examples of these artists would include Lorella Paleni or Paula Baader. Living in Vienna we immersed ourselves in the Austrian contemporary art culture, especially the powerful abstract artists like Hubert Scheibl, Hans Staudacher or Hermann Nitsch. Moving to Asia exposed us all to an entirely new culture. And art became a way for us to engage with the social and political dynamics in this broad, heterogeneous region. We deliberately sought artists with strong messaging, like Liu Chuang’s works about Chinese migrant workers or Din Q Le’s works on the Cambodia and Vietnam atrocities. We also have been fascinated by the Star Group in China, the first real modern art movement after Mao and are excited to have works from Huang Rui and Ma Desheng in our collection.

JS: How do you shape and curate your collection?

BK: First and foremost, we are curious and explore a lot of different kinds of art. We enjoy walking through galleries, museums, art fairs and also discover wonderful art on the internet; We immerse ourselves in the local art scene and learn about new artists. It is inspiring to meet artists and friends who are excited about art! And we discuss how we feel about the art works, what we like and how the works impact us. We are not particularly concerned about public recognition or market success of an artist.    

CK: Bernhard and I originally focused on collecting paintings but over the past few years expanded into first photography, e.g., a major work on the Human Rights convention from Lukas Hueller or recently an intriguing work from Yang Yongliang, and then added sculptures and installations, e.g., from Izumi Kato and Michael Joo, or a major light work from Brigitte Kowanz. Another strong light piece is The Irony of Worship by Tuan Andrew Nguyen, which turns an old Asian cart into an altar to celebrate the pangolin and criticize how humans quest in Asia for mystic energy has made some animal species almost extinct. So our collection on one hand has quite a clear scope, but within this scope the Kotanko Collection is broad and diverse.

JS: Where do you see your collection in a few years?

CK: I hope we will further move into a wider variety of media in our collection. We recently acquired our first video work – Florence Lee’s Elephant in a Castle; a young artist who reflects on the Hong Kong protests which we experienced first-hand. The work received wide attention in global film festivals and competitions. For us it importantly expresses the deep emotions about Hong Kong. I hope we will have more videos and different media in our collection. We are also discussing the advent of NFTs—but we see them mainly as a new technique, just like photography or video in the past.

BK: The overall aspiration and philosophy for our collection is certainly here to stay; especially the connection between Europe and Asia and the interest in artists that touch on the big questions in society. We hope that also through this digital platform of The Kotanko Collection, we will be able to connect with more viewers who are excited about art—especially other collectors, curators and of course artists! 

JS: What would you like visitors to experience with your collection?

CK: Maybe it is the diversity of ideas that I just described. Art expands our minds and souls, it gives us new perspectives on what we sometimes cannot see in our daily lives. And we wish that any visitors to our collection will experience and feel the diversity and richness of art.   

BK: Our collection and our passion for art is very personal. But as first our friends and then other people became interested in learning about the art works in our collection and our commitment to art, we decided that having a public presence would be a suitable way to share what art can give. For us, being with art sparks ideas, can energize or relax, can challenge us—and it is a big part of our lives. We hope that some of our passion transmits to more people around us.

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Content: John Silvis
Design and development: PEACH Wien