This is not a collection
— it is a passion.

Bernhard and Cordula Kotanko are passionate and committed patrons of the arts. The Kotanko Collection represents the contemporary ideas and dilemmas of our time and their personal journey of engaging the arts since its inception in 2008. With an initial focus on emerging artists like Laurella Paleni (Italy), Vivian Zhang (China) and Paula Baader (Germany), as well as culturally significant art works by established Austrian artists, such as Arnulf Rainer, Hubert Scheibl and Hermann Nitsch, the collection has grown to encompass almost two hundred works of art. The collection is situated both in Asia and Europe, featuring key works at the collection’s Art Tank in Vienna since 2017, a creative space in which to enjoy the collection and bring together friends of art. Living in Hong Kong since 2015, the collection shifted towards Asian contemporary art, with a special focus on artists and works that convey a strong social and political message, like Liu Chuang’s iconic installations Love Story, and Buying Everything On You, which talks about Chinese migrant workers struggles, and from Vietnam, Din Q Le’s works memorializes the troubling, violent histories of Cambodia and Vietnam, or significant works by Tuan Andrew Nguyen.

With this evolution, The Kotanko Collection today is uniquely focused around three pillars that mirror the collector’s life journey as Europeans situated in Asia: Austrian Modern Art, Contemporary Asian Art and Global Emerging Art. The vision of the collection is shaped by a full immersion in art and culture and the Kotanko’s personal encounters with artists in studios and galleries, as well as attending art fairs, biennales and museums. These art encounters accentuate the complex social and political dynamics of contemporary life and have expanded the Kotanko’s reach into the global art world.

Established with a foundation in painting, the Kotanko Collection features a wide spectrum of mediums: photography, printmaking, video art, mixed media, sculpture and installation. This appreciation of diversity is similarly apparent in the conceptual choices of the collection; As collectors the Kotanko’s create synergies between the distinct cultural and intellectual aspects of the artworks. They are interested in art that can challenge our expected paradigms and inspire the human spirit through a vital and nourishing dialogue. 

Bernhard and Cordula Kotanko welcome you to experience their collection through their comprehensive website and to take a moment to reflect on the intersection of art and difficult questions present in our social and political worlds. 

Since 2015 Bernhard and Cordula Kotanko have been based in Asia and this has given them unlimited access to Asian contemporary art, both in their backyard of Hong Kong and the surrounding regions. The various countries represented in the collection, for example Singapore, China, Japan, Indonesia and Vietnam, just to name a few, have their own unique histories of wars, colonization and conflicts with western regimes. In some cases these quite recent contentions significantly shape the identities of contemporary artists and their creative environments. The Kotanko Collection has a strong representation of artists from China: Beginning with leading representatives of the Star Group, such as Huang Rui and Ma Desheng, which paved the way for new art to emerge in the post-Mao era, and further for innovative voices in recent movements like Liu Wei, Xu Zhen, Wang Jianwei and many others. The collection also celebrates strong female artists across Asia, including key works from Xiao Lu and Zhang Yanzi from China, Lee Bul from Korea and Maria Taniguchi from the Philippines. The focus of the Asian Contemporary Art collection importantly highlights art that conveys a strong social and political message, either directly or implicitly. One specific example is Liu Chuang’s (China) iconic installation Buying Everything on You, 2014, looks at how materialism and pervasive industry is irreversibly impacting the way people live. With rapid changes in technology and a general rise in affluence, there has been an unprecedented level of change in the cultural structures within China. Li Qing(China) similarly grapples with the disappearance of traditional culture, by salvaging discarded windows and doors as substrates for his paintings. In this way his practice is immortalizing a piece of China’s architectural history that is vanishing from the horizon. Din Q. Le’s (Vietnam) processes the cruelties in Cambodia inflicted by the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-79) on its citizens, with monumental photographic weavings of the torture chambers and historic sites where these atrocities occurred. Photographer Akiq Aw (Indonesia) critically addresses the family engineering policy in Indonesia under Suharto, which despite the promise of much renewal was a dark spot on Indonesia’s history. On the first glance the colorful and vibrant paintings of Pow Martinez  (Philippines) seem to conceal the grotesque subject matter. The struggles of living under the Marcos’ regime are represented by mutants, monsters, demons, and deviants, that appear to transform amidst weird landscapes or disintegrating urban scenarios of his lush tableaux’s. Izumi Kato (Japan) and Mulyana (Indonesia) take a more playful approach to how they reflect on larger human concerns. Kato, who is represented with several major works in the collection, for example created a large sculpture which combines three hand carved, life sized surreal figures that are laying on their backs facing upward. Their arms and limbs become plants suggesting our inescapable relationship with the natural world. Mulyana’s magical oeuvre points to the erosion of the global oceanic ecosystems with his intricately knit and crocheted soft sculptural installations that depict a beautiful and harmonious world of sea creatures and coral reefs, that exist beneath the surface of the water.
The roots of the collection are in Vienna, Austria, where one can also view parts of the collection at the Art Tank. With an initial focus on established Austrian artists like Arnulf Rainer, Hubert Scheibl and Hermann Nitsch, the collection has grown to also include many important artists from multiple generations that grew out of the dynamic foundation of the Austrian art scene of the 1960s and 1970s. Vienna has always been a hub of great ideas, which was particularly vibrant around the turn of the twentieth Century with artists from every intellectual discipline and gave birth to artists like Gustav Klimt and his peers. More recent postwar movements, such as the Vienna Actionism and post-expressionistic painting, challenged the status quo and were deeply engaged in the international dialogue . Artists like Walter Pichler, and later Bruno Gironcoli for example, were innovators in rethinking new forms of sculpture and redefining its materiality, which paved the way for significant artists such as Franz West and Brigitte Kowanz to push the boundaries of their medium.  Brigitte Kowanz (Austria) is represented in the collection with a beautiful mirror and neon work titled Twitter 21.06.2006, 2017, is a poignant work in her oeuvre which talks about the transformation of language we are experiencing in our digital and mobile technologies. Kowanz is interested in the intersection of light and language, and how  these new technologies influence our contemporary phenomenology. Her light sculptures are based on specific modes of communication that are translated into dots, lines or squares that are illuminated and reflected back to the viewer on the mirrored surface. Capturing the spirit of our time, a recent sculpture by Erwin Wurm titled Trip (Taschenskupturen), 2021, astutely points to the ways we have been limited due to the global pandemic. This work is part of a larger series of cast, luxury bags that are sprouting human appendages. These objects also accentuate our dependence on objects and obsession with materialism. Known for his action-based One Minute Sculptures, his work is simultaneously static and performative by coming performance and sculpture in intriguing ways.  In the last decade Martha Jungwirth has been recognized internationally as an important figure in painting. Her large, sometimes expressionistic paintings, are emotionally visceral and oscillate between figuration and abstraction. She applies a plein-air approach to all her work: Her methodology radiates immediacy and freedom, as she reacts to the environment around her. And still there is a certain amount of control in her gestures that allows her to transmit compacted energy in a way that is not often seen in the work of her younger counterparts.
As global citizens Bernhard Kotanko and Cordula Kotanko are positioned to encounter art from different cultures and their hands-on approach to viewing art is what defines the emerging art in their collection. The Kotanko’s unique engagement with art affords them a birds of eye view of the art ecosystem and allows for new correlations between diverse topics that are actively being examined within the contemporary context. The Global Emerging Art section of the Kotanko Collection identifies some key art positions with artists from eighteen plus countries around the world. These singular art encounters expand on the core interests of the collection and positions new artists in the context of more established artists that form the basis of the collection.  The Global Emerging Art section includes art that addresses very relevant topics on gender and sexuality, such as critically well-received young queer artists from the United States, Devin Shimoyama (US) and Jake Ziemann (US.) These artists are a strong voice in pushing the global conversation surrounding identity and modes of representation, which in some instances is supported enthusiastically by the culture at large, and yet in others, is still viewed as subversive or even criminal.  Daniel Mullen (Scotland) and Eka Sharashidze (Germany) are pursuing art from the lineage of geometric abstraction and design. They are both working within geometric, formalist frameworks, while simultaneously using abstract notions to propose an intersection with real time and space. This contemporary approach to geometric compositions and the use of repetition is augmented by images of the figure and architecture that allow them to dialogue with our perceptions of daily life. Lorella Paleni (Italy) takes a poetic and allegorical stance in her paintings that point to the roles of women and how we treat animals. Although nostalgic and dark in some cases, they are meant to underscore the precariousness of the human condition in light of the strong downward trends of global climate change. They present the viewer with a semblance of modern storytelling. Andrea Michaelsson (Spain) is a popular street artist from Barcelona, who operates under the name of Btoy, and also maintains a rigors studio practice. Working intentionally in the realm of public art, she addresses the representation of women and the impact of socio-economic disparities between the genders with her work.
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Content: John Silvis
Design and development: PEACH Wien