A look at contemporary art festivals around Europe (that mostly artists know about)
1. Katowice Street Art Festival (Katowice, Poland)
Street art has been a growing art form in Poland for the past several decades, with its origins stemming from political unrest. The 1980s saw a not-so subtle induction into the world of street art, with images and expressions of protest against the communist regime. Twenty years later, street art has not only become common place on the walls of cities, but locals actually embrace the expressive art form, and the color it adds to the greyness of post-industrial cities like Katowice, Poland. With a population of nearly 300,000, Katowice has been hosting an annual Street Art Festival, inviting mural artists from around the world to turn their city walls into an open-air gallery, nudging locals to consume art on a daily basis.
International artists like Aryz (Spain), Axel Void (Haitian and Spanish) and local artists such as Mariusz Libel spend weeks preparing for the festival, studying their environment and getting to know the people who live in these spaces before starting the conversation on walls, along with a dozen other invited artists. The city of Katowice has slowly become a city of murals since the beginning of the festival in 2011.
2. Museum Gugging (Vienna, Austria)
Vienna has been a breeding ground of art for centuries, and the beauty of this city is that the evolution of its great minds never seems to cease. The Gugging is a perfect example of this. Located just on the outskirts of Vienna, the Gugging is not your typical art museum. It is actually a psychiatric institution which has put itself on the map within the art world thanks to its patrons’ artistic expression. The Maria Gugging Psychiatric Clinic has offered one of the finest collections of Brut Art housed in a gallery just off the clinic. The Brut Center features work on display by some of the talented patients who have learned to express themselves through a form of raw art, commonly referred to as Outsider Art. Their work was first displayed in 1970 in a Vienna Gallery and the permanent collection can be seen today at the Gugging Center, just a bus ride away from Vienna city center.
French painter and sculptor, Jean Dubuffet, was known to have coined the term Brut Art, referring to work produced by psychiatric patients, prisoners, and children. After shunning the concept of academic training in the arts, and the bourgeoisie circle he was surrounded by, Dubuffet began adhering to a more raw, humanistic type of aesthetic beauty. His works have been displayed at the MoMa in NYC, Galleria Nazionale in Italy and is acclaimed internationally.
3. NuArt Festival (Stavanger, Norway)
NuArt Festival has been gathering like-minded urban artists since 2001, with one simple aim (well, relatively simple). Events, performances and installations aim at creating a conversation around the concept of what art is. Every September, both renowned and newcomer street artists, bring forth their cultural identity in a series of personal work, relaying their message both inside, outside and alongside the city walls to talk about the power of the urban art form that is known as street art.
NuArt Festival has led the way in terms of street art festivals, considered a leader of its genre by attracting acclaimed artists from all around the world to a city with a population of 240,000 people which was named the European Capital of Culture in 2008. Past events have seen names works of Alexandros Vasmoulakis (Greece) and Bahia Shehab (Egypt). Bottom line? If you’re into “new art”, this contemporary festival should be on your list of essential contemporary festivals to visit.
4. “No Limit” Mural Festival (Borås, Sweden)
Awarded the label of “Remarkable Festival” by Europe for Festivals (EFFE), the “No Limit” Mural Festival is first in class when it comes to artistic integrity, message and community commitment. Started in 2014, the festival invites artists from all around the world to help turn Borås into an outdoor exhibition. Once a year, the 70,000 local inhabitants of this railway hub city welcome well-known street artists and a captive audience to a festival dedicated exclusively to mural culture.
The festival has seen muralists such as Etam Cru (Poland) whose style focuses on surrealism and fantasy. Artists are given a canvas, designated city walls, to design whatever they want. The concept is not revealed until the artist begins painting. No pre-approved sketches or ideas, leaving plenty of room for surprise… and discussion.
5. Bergen International Festival (Bergen, Norway)
Combining contemporary theater, dance, opera, music, installations and visual arts, the Bergen International Festival is pretty much your one-stop shop for contemporary culture. One of the largest and long-running Nordic festivals focusing on art, the festival and the coastal city of Bergen and its locals, have opened their doors to artists since 1953. All for the love of art! Once a year for two full weeks, the colorful and charming city of Bergen sees some of the best forward-thinking performances in theater, home to debuts in dance, opera, music and plays. The Bergen International Festival is a crash course in international contemporary happenings in the art world and an absolute must for anyone with a penchant for art.
6. Athens Digital Arts Festival (Athens, Greece)
As has been the long-standing tradition of Athenians, the Athens Digital Arts Festival is designed to make you think. But this time with your conceptual mind. The festival, which has been housed in the Technopolis Center, focuses on audio-visual installations that will test your senses of the current world around you. The future-forward themes are not for the faint of art. This is a breeding ground for progressive thinking in and with the digital world.
7. Art Basel Festival (Basel, Switzerland)
Taking place in Basel, Hong Kong and Miami, this acclaimed art festival is designed to connect artists, collectors, and galleries. This industry-focused festival leads the way in establishing the market for contemporary art. This international festival provides an accessible platform for gallerists and artists to meet. A proper mix and mingle of the past, revived.
8. Ars Electronica Festival (Linz, Austria)
Labeled the European Capital of Culture in 2009, Linz is an Upper-Austrian city that has been the hub of a culturally thriving future for decades. This city has proved itself one of the most forward-thinking in Austria, host to the Ars Electronica Festival. The 2018 theme is the “Art of Imperfection”, which questions the idea of when are mistakes deemed failures and when are they deemed the source of inspiration?
9. Diary Slam (Vienna, Austria)
Founded by eclectic and vibrant Innsbruck-native artist Diana Köhle in April 2013, TAGebuch Slam (Diary Slam) is a performing arts movement on the rise. The concept is simple—real people (always-changing volunteers), share very real stories in front of strangers… reading from their very real diaries. The shows travels throughout various arts festivals in the country, and has a regular venue in Vienna at TAG Theater (an der Gumpendorfer Strasse). The participants are not artists (yet) but read their thoughts and vulnerabilities on stage as an artful expression of catharsis. Shows are mostly in German but brave non-German speakers are welcome to participate.
10. Impakt Festival (Utrecht, Netherlands)
Once a year for five full days, audio-visual artists from around the world gather in the medieval town of Utrecht, Netherlands to communicate innovative thought around contemporary digital culture. Artists, lecturers, performers are invited to share their views on a pressing topic in the contemporary art world with the hopes of unifying a common discussion to pave the way for rising artists everywhere. The 2018 festival focuses on the notion of a Post-Truth era and its implications on the art world and beyond. If the effects of artificial intelligence, algorithmic violence and superstructures is your type of contemporary art, the Impakt Festival will fit right into your art(ful) agenda.
Past participants have been Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde, known for his blending of urban environments and tech and American artist, director, and screenwriter Miranda July, known for her broad range of work in cinema and writing.
11. Opera Forward Festival (Amsterdam, Netherlands)
Amsterdam’s contemporary art scene has given way to performing arts for the last three years in a row running. The Dutch National Opera has opened its doors to a more progressive take on opera, leading the way in “new initiatives, new work, new talent”, making opera more approachable for the contemporary mind than ever. Always innovative in their performance and staging, the Opera House has taken it a step further with works that are coined to “embrace the unknown”—and that it does with work that sets the bar high when it comes to new talent and innovative visual performances.
Sometimes the new can also be found in the old, so expect to see revisited classics alongside forward-thinking pieces which are somehow seamlessly sewn into one solid opera festival program.
12. Sounds of the Dolomites Festival (Dolomites Mountains, Italy)
What better acoustic “arena” could you ask for than the Alpine Mountains? The Sounds of the Dolomites Festival is not your everyday concert. This annual summertime festival connects artists to nature to people. It is the ultimate fusion of sounds and senses. Musicians such as Mario Brunello, Yamanaka Electric Female Trio, Graham Nash and more find their spot atop the Dolomites, alongside some of the most stunning backdrops, with the help of the perfect surrounding silence, cool Alpine air in the warm summer months, and a captive audience, these artists are given center stage in an open-air venue which is one of a kind.
Performances vary in genre, as do the Alpine locations. But there is plenty of time to explore them all, as this is a summer-long music festival. Just imagine a “high” quality concert after an Alpine hike. The perfect incentive to get your daily fix of exercise, followed by the ultimate in relaxation of the senses.