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This Austrian City Identified for Its Climbing and Snowboarding Is Making Waves within the Artwork Scene

As I drove in to Unhealthy Gastein, I might see the place specified by entrance of me like a diorama. Set in Austria’s Hohe Tauern mountains, it unfold throughout a valley and climbed up two vertiginous hillsides. On the high have been tall Belle Époque buildings, with Artwork Nouveau and older homes sitting under them, and the roaring Unhealthy Gastein Waterfall on the coronary heart of all of it. All of it resembled the set of a Wes Anderson movie — the previous Grand Hôtel de l’Europe, within the middle of city, is a lifeless ringer for the Grand Budapest Lodge. 

Just a few years in the past, I began to listen to about Unhealthy Gastein from art-world mates in Berlin, the place I dwell. They instructed me this small, quirky city — already a longtime snowboarding and mountaineering vacation spot — had turn out to be a haven for creatives from round Europe and was making an attempt to foster an unbiased creative scene on par with what was occurring in Joshua Tree, California, or Marfa, Texas. Final July, I lastly got down to see it for myself.

Unhealthy Gastein, a 90-minute drive from Salzburg and simply reached by practice from Berlin or Munich, has a layered historical past. Starting with the Celts within the fourth century B.C., it was a gold-mining space. Then, beginning within the sixteenth and carrying into the primary half of the twentieth century, it was principally identified for the therapeutic qualities of its thermal springs. The city developed right into a retreat the place intellectuals like Sigmund Freud summered and artists like Gustav Klimt went to sketch. Royals, together with Sisi, Empress Elisabeth of Austria, got here to its sanatoriums to take the waters. Ski resorts opened within the 1900s, making Unhealthy Gastein an alpine vacation spot — the World Ski Championship was held there in 1958, and as we speak, the city has 4 ski areas with impressively steep terrain.

From left: Opening evening at sommer.frische.kunst; Andrea von Goetz, the curator of sommer.frische.kunst, and her assistant, Jonah Kittelmann, with paintings by Andi Fischer.

Courtesy of Sommer.Frische.Kunst

Within the mid Nineteen Seventies, nonetheless, Unhealthy Gastein’s glory began to fade, and lots of downtown buildings fell into decay. By the late Nineties, when the architect Ike Ikrath and his spouse, Evelyn — whose household ran Haus Hirt Lodge & Spa, a Twenties-era lodge that also operates as we speak — moved to city, it had a haunted, abandoned high quality. “The city was going bankrupt, and it was a catastrophe,” Evelyn Ikrath instructed me. 

However generally, if the appropriate seeds are planted, stunning issues can develop. Which is strictly what has occurred in Unhealthy Gastein over the previous twenty years: artists from round Europe have created site-specific artwork initiatives, injecting new life into the city. In a time when many European ski resorts are grappling with local weather change, Unhealthy Gastein has redefined itself as a winter sports activities vacation spot the place artwork is entrance and middle. 

After dropping my baggage on the Cōmodo — a Nineteen Sixties sanatorium that, in early 2023, was reborn as a 70-room lodge with a Midcentury Fashionable aesthetic — I headed over to Kraftwerk, an deserted energy plant that has been remodeled right into a restaurant, momentary studios, and an exhibition area. I used to be there to fulfill the Hamburg curator Andrea von Goetz for the opening of artwork:badgastein, a weeklong artwork truthful she had launched the yr earlier than. I discovered her in the midst of a colorfully dressed crowd of collectors, artists, and gallerists, holding courtroom.

From left: A sitting space on the Cōmodo lodge; the waterfall in Unhealthy Gastein.

From left: Courtesy of Design Accommodations; Getty Photos

“Once I got here with my household to Unhealthy Gastein for the primary time within the early 2000s, it was a kind of deserted, unusual place,” von Goetz mentioned, “however for me it appeared like a chance, like a huge piece of white paper.” Again then, she partnered with Doris Höhenwarter, who was working for the tourism board on the time; the Ikraths, who, over time, remade Haus Hirt into the fashionable 33-key property it’s as we speak; and Olaf Krohne, who runs the modern lodge Regina. In 2011, von Goetz and the group additionally began sommer.frische.kunst (“summer time.contemporary.artwork.”), an artist-residency program at Kraftwerk. 

Additionally they curated an “Artwork Strolling Tour” with 15 site-specific artworks planted all through city and within the surrounding valleys and forests. One dramatic purple timber sculpture, Harfen (Harps), by the Berlin-based artist Olaf Holzapfel, was erected in close by Hohe Tauern Nationwide Park. The stroll is supposed as “a kind of treasure hunt or pilgrimage,” Evelyn Ikrath instructed me. “You might spend a number of days mountaineering to search out them.” 

The strolling tour and the truthful made the artwork scene really feel playful and interactive. Gisela Clement, who owns a women-artist-focused gallery in Bonn, Germany, instructed me one thing comparable. “All the opposite large artwork gala’s have gotten so business,” she mentioned. “This feels intimate and genuine.”

Harfen, a sculpture by Olaf Holzapfel, as seen on strolling tour round Unhealthy Gastein, Austria.

Florian Kolmer/Courtesy of Sommer Frische Kunst

The subsequent day, I walked alongside the Kaiser Wilhelm Promenade, a forested path with a captivating espresso store, Café Schuh, and spectacular views of the valley under. Again on the town, I popped in to galleries showcasing up-and-coming artists. I used to be notably taken with an set up by Pegasus Product, a Berlin-based collective of artists Dargelos Kersten, Anton Peitersen, and Gernot Seeliger. That they had created an “oracle” expertise that performed on the modern-day conception of wellness and spirituality: members paid to throw rubber strands onto a glass floor, which was X-rayed, after which sat in a chair and put their hand into a gap. A printed picture emerged, which was rolled up right into a Bic Cristal pen and made right into a necklace.

Later that night, at a dinner of about 200 folks celebrating sommer.frische.kunst on the mountain lodge Bellevue Alm, von Goetz was sitting on the head of a desk, a glass of glowing wine in her hand. She took within the joyful crowd and remarked that she felt happy to reach at this celebratory second, but additionally cautious. She didn’t need Unhealthy Gastein to go the best way of different artwork hubs, appropriated by actual property builders and commercialized, with the artists squeezed out. If achieved proper, the group might “construct a mountain metropolis prepared for the long run,” she mentioned. And at that second, surrounded by optimistic creators and collectors, a lot of them carrying their Pegasus Product pendants, I believed her.  

A model of this story first appeared within the February 2024 subject of Journey + Leisure beneath the headline “Out of the Field.

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