Following their establishment as privately owned savings banks in the early 19th century, the different branches of what has now become Erste Group had gone on to compile extensive art collections which developed in various historical contexts. In 2004, a newly elaborated concept served to finally combine Erste Group’s collecting activities in terms of both content and method. A research team led by Rainer Fuchs, chief curator at the Museum of Modern Art (MUMOK) in Vienna, had begun evaluating the existing art collections of Erste Group’s members in 2002 and, based on their findings, developed a unified concept which laid the cornerstone for the present Kontakt collection. Kontakt is dedicated to making visible the art scene of the regions which it “explores,” as well as making an attempt at establishing a comprehensive body of works which can serve as an archive for research and exhibition-making.

Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe’s history consists of numerous partial histories that cannot be subsumed under any simple, common system. The collection’s historical beginnings in the context of the international avant-gardes of the 1960s documents the emergence of conceptual and actionist tendencies that were developing simultaneously and internationally. In addition to the aim of rearticulating certain elements of the most recent part of Europe’s art-historical canon, the collection also endeavors to include works that are erratic and nonetheless referential, works which testify to an art production that has been continuous and yet has often remained concealed from public view.

Thus, the historical point of departure for Kontakt is to be found in the conceptual tendencies and key artistic movements of the period running from the late 1950s to the 1970s. This historically oriented section starts at a point in contemporary art history at which decisive political, actionist, performative, feminist and gender-related movements entered the realm of art, henceforth to strongly foster the perception of these issues in the public sphere. On a conceptual-formalist level, many artworks of the period attempted to formulate reactions to the development of modernism and its status within the art discourse of the socialist countries. The latter also led to many artists’ own takes on minimalism and to a very specific use of materials and objects. Moreover, many of the works in the collection refer to artistic forms of creation which can very well be viewed in parallel with the works of artists in Western Europe and the Americas.

The artists and their works, which have become part of a unique collection as of 2004, have by now gained the attention of numerous curators and European museums. International exhibitions including several biennials and documenta XII have shown works by artists who have been part of the Kontakt collection from the very beginning. Thus, a growing general interest in the region of former Eastern Europe has been witnessed since the collection first set off on its mission.


The point of departure for Kontakt is to be found in the conceptual outlook exhibited by the works of artists from Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe. The collection is founded upon their exceptional and unique artistic creations; these have gained international attention in recent years due to the redefinition of European art history, thus being integrated into new tendencies of perception and dialog.

Erste Group decided to undertake this project as a contribution that goes beyond economic concerns by helping to create social and cultural value in the societies in which it is involved, while also taking into account the aesthetic and social context.

The collection’s strategy and mode of presentation take shape according to the guidance of an art advisory committee. The work of the collection is embedded in a program of related activities including exhibitions, loans, publications, research, documentation and the exploration of the social and political framework in which the artworks were produced.

An association consisting of Erste Bank, Česká spořitelna, Erste Bank Croatia, Erste Bank Hungary, Slovenská sporitel’ňa, BCR and ERSTE Foundation purchases the artworks. Erste Group initiated the Kontakt collection, and local banks of the Group have long supported the project, and in 2011, ERSTE Foundation also became member to additionally support the collection’s publication series.

The collection bears the name “Kontakt” in tribute to the work of Slovak artist Július Koller (1939–2007), who left behind one of the most distinctive conceptual art oeuvres in the region of former Czechoslovakia. Moreover, Czech artist Jiří Kovanda also used the term “Kontakt” in his works in order to hint at the interrupted communication between art and the public as well as between the Communist Bloc and the Western world. The term’s existence in German was taken as the impetus to use it as a name for the collection in order to overcome the former East-West boundaries, as well as to assemble a body of works which has meanwhile made its way into a pan-European canon of art history.

The collection seeks to put its assemblage of art from Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe in the public’s service and continue its vigorous purchasing and exhibition activities in the years to come. This undertaking involves an appreciation of—and the greatest possible respect for—the artists themselves, as well as uncompromising dedication to quality regarding the works selected for the collection.

Art Advisory Committee

The collection’s thematic relevance has been ensured by an international art advisory committee which, since the beginnings of Kontakt, has carried on numerous discussions with the aim of lending the collection its unique status within the art world. The distinctive personal approaches of the individual committee members allow for the differentiated treatment of concrete thematic fields and for the development of emphases within the collection. All decisions regarding the collection’s policies and purchases have been made by this advisory committee. Its dedication and competence guarantee the endeavor’s earnestness and the collection’s viability for future generations.

The appointed members of the founding art advisory committee have been Silvia Eiblmayr (art historian and curator, commissioner of the Austrian contribution to the 53rd Venice Biennale), Georg Schöllhammer (founding editor of springerin, Hefte für Gegenwartskunst, curator and writer), Jiří Ševčík (curator, professor at the Academy of Fine Arts, Prague), Branka Stipančić (art historian and curator, Zagreb) and Adam Szymczyk (artistic director, documenta 14). With the successful balance inherent in this working group, the members have shaped the collection over the years in order to further enhance its value.

Apart from the jury meetings held to discuss proposed art purchases, the members of the art advisory board contributed theoretical texts and actively helped to make the collection more visible not only to the art-world public but also to a wider audience. These endeavors serve to enlarge the body of works on individual artists, as well as other publications and catalogues raisonnés.

The expertise of the jury members helps to focus on those artists with whom they have been working continuously, and whose work has not been published and presented widely. This research and text-related jury work leads to print publications and is also published on the Kontakt website in connection with the artists’ presentations.

Help in organizing exhibitions, as well as active involvement in their creation, is a further aspect of the art advisory committee members’ activities. Finally, the jury meetings also provided the opportunity to actively discuss exhibitions in terms of their meaning and relevance for the collection.

Kontakt. The Art Collection of Erste Group and ERSTE Foundation

Association for the Promotion of Central, East and Southeast European Art

Am Belvedere 1
1100 Vienna


  • Kathrin Rhomberg, Chairwoman
  • Andreas Huber (Erste Group Bank AG)
  • Christine Böhler, Chairwoman (2009 – 2013)
  • Boris Marte, Chairman (2004 – 2009)
  • Wolfgang Schopf (2004 – 2011)


  • Banca Comerciala Romana (BCR)
  • Ceská spořitelna
  • Erste Bank Croatia
  • Erste Bank Hungary
  • ERSTE Foundation
  • Erste Group Bank AG
  • Slovenská sporitel’ňa

Art Advisory Committee

  • Silvia Eiblmayr
  • Georg Schöllhammer
  • Jiří Ševčík
  • Branka Stipančić
  • Adam Szymczyk


Artistic Director

  • Kathrin Rhomberg

Collection Curator

Head of Program and Production

Head of Collection Management

Archives and Administration

Kontakt. The Art Collection of Erste Group and ERSTE Foundation is a non-profit art association based in Vienna. Its purpose is the support and promotion of Central, East and Southeast European Art.

Kontakt. The Art Collection of Erste Group and ERSTE Foundation is responsible for the Art in Architecture-project “The Canaletto View” (curated by Kathrin Rhomberg & Pierre Bal-Blanc) of Erste Group Bank AG at the Erste Campus in Vienna, Austria.