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.