An overseas call: Bahamian artists represent in Vienna exhibition

Hoping to get the international creative community’s ears ringing, the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas Director Amanda Coulson and gallerist and community activist Ulrich Voges will be joining forces in Vienna, Austria in a show titled Nassau Calling: Art in The Bahamas [Re]visited. A collaborative initiative, Coulson, Voges and Austrian art dealer and gallerist Ernst Hilger conceived the idea of a Bahamian exhibition a few years ago.

For 20 years before he settled in The Bahamas, Voges owned a prominent gallery in Frankfurt, Germany. While there, he established connections with collectors, many of whom are Viennese, along with other dealers and gallerists. The older Hilger—a long-time veteran of the prestigious Art Basel—was his mentor in the business. This experience also equipped him with expertise in areas like art appraisal and the tastes and interests of European collectors.

Similarly, during her time in Europe as an art critic and curator, Coulson established her own rapport and, having co-founded the VOLTA art fairs together with Voges, she began to build her own strong connections to international commercial galleries. In 2006, Coulson curated the seminal exhibition at the German museum, the Nassauicher Kunstverein, titled Funky Nassau. The show has been described as the inaugural showing of contemporary Bahamian art in Europe and featured nine Bahamian artists.

“Ernst Hilger is always actively searching for art out of new places. He represented Chinese art long before the boom, and he’s been in the Middle East for a while too, as well as continuing to represent his Austrian [artists],” explained Coulson. “He’s always intrigued about what’s upcoming. So when I moved here (The Bahamas), he specifically asked me, ‘Would you be able, at some time, to do a show?’ I said, ‘Yes. Let’s schedule it.’ So it was a collaborative concept.”

The works to be shown in Nassau Calling were initially culled from the Seventh National Exhibition, Antillean: an Ecology (NE7), which was co-curated by NAGB Chief Curator Holly Bynoe and COB educator Michael Edwards and opened December 2014. Coulson and Voges together selected key pieces from the NE7 and invited prominent artists like Antonius Roberts and Blue Curry, whose works were showcased in Funky Nassau, to participate in the 2015 exhibition.

The idea behind Funky Nassau and Nassau Calling is not a novel one. Inviting international curators to participate in local shows is one of the ways commercial galleries become familiar with global art movements and names. Through this kind of exchange and collaboration, artists have the opportunity to become represented by dealers and engage with critics and scholars who might otherwise be unfamiliar with their work, thereby expanding their visibility, market access and clientele.

Bynoe has pointed out that such international exhibitions highlight the importance of continued dialogue between national institutions – particularly those of island nations like The Bahamas. Efforts to continue the circulation of ideas and best practices throughout the region lead to greater opportunities for artists to support themselves through their work.

Hilger owns three gallery spaces in Vienna. Nassau Calling will be hosted at his BROTKunshalle Gallery – a large industrial venue affording the space to host big exhibitions like this one. Referred to as a ‘lab’, the BROTKunshalle Gallery is known for supporting work by artists whose names and accomplishments are unfamiliar to the Vienna public. Nassau Calling will feature 25 Bahamian artists; among them are both established and up-and-coming practitioners, such as NAGB Curatorial Assistant Natalie Willis.

“I think it’s very important for Bahamian artists to be exposed to different countries and cultures because the market here, like any industry, for any Bahamian producer, is a challenge because it’s a small market; and for artists it’s the same. There are only so many collectors, curators and gallerists here, but there are many more in the world, globally, who could support their practice so they can work fulltime as artists. I feel that it’s extremely important, for the growth of our cultural field, for Bahamian artists to be plugged into an international art market,” Coulson said.

The potential benefits from increased exposure have been enough to override the temporary challenges Coulson and Voges have encountered in their endeavor. While living in an island nation certainly has its perks, one of them is not the cost and ease of shipping and the transit of materials to and from the country. International shows are vastly simpler on large landmasses, where the works can be driven to their destination. To fund the effort of shipping works to Vienna, the NAGB received support from the Davidoff Art Initiative.

Their hard work and commitment will pay off in the exhibition, which opens Saturday, September 26 in Vienna, Austria. The date coincides with one of the city’s largest art fairs – the Vienna Contemporary, which is held September 24-27 and will welcome representation from 99 galleries from 25 countries. Vienna Contemporary coordinators estimate that the city’s population of collectors and art institutions will receive a boost of 20 percent during this time. It is hoped that, through Nassau Calling, The Bahamas will be recognized as a cultural hub whose artists hold their own at the cutting edge.

For more information on Nassau Calling, visit