Art Cologne Opens to Flood of Emerging Artist Sales
The 49th edition of Art Cologne opened to VIPs on Wednesday with an understated vibe characteristic of the region to which it caters. A mostly German mix of collectors, curators, and other notables were out in full force, among them collectors and patrons Julia Stoschek, Karen and Christian Boros, Peter Raue, Alain Servais, Don and Mera Rubell, Michaela de Pury, MMK Frankfurt director Susanne Gaensheimer, Städel Museum contemporary art chief Martin Engler , Lenbachhaus director Matthias Mühling, and Kunstverein in Hamburg director Bettina Steinbrügge.
The institutional contingent appeared most active where acquisitions were concerned, Art Cologne being known for the slow and steady approach taken by its private collectors. This cautious pace can be jarring to first-time participants. But veterans know well that members of the earnest and seriously intentioned collector base that the fair serves—from the Rhine region, southern Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Switzerland—tend to make good on their inquiries by its close on Sunday evening.
But whether due to a new fair layout, which sees Art Cologne split across three floors instead of two (and about which the collectors I polled were near-unanimous in enthusiastic approval) or other market forces, at least the young galleries located on the top floor seemed to be bucking that trend. Four works sold in the first few hours of the fair appeared to be the average among this contingent of so-called New Contemporaries—galleries under roughly 10 years old—and the multi-gallery Collaborations booths.
The standout booth among them (and perhaps the fair’s best-curated overall), by Berlin’s PSM Gallery, shows an almost completely monochrome white group of works by Awst & Walther, Paolo Chiasera, Daniel Jackson, and Anca Munteanu Rimnic. By the VIP preview’s end, owner Sabine Schmidt reported selling two works from Awst & Walther’s series of “Biometric Paintings,” which, characteristically for the Welsh-German duo, take on systems of state- and socially-developed control over our bodies and actions, here represented by the artists’ thumbprints layered a seemingly infinite number of times in acrylic over the round canvas surface. Three of the duo’s edition of six street bollards cast in clear glass are also presented in the booth.
PSM also sold two wall-based works by Munteanu Rimnic, whose ceramic carpet forms the booth’s focal point. Pulling from the Romanian artist’s roots—her mother was a painter and textile designer, her father a designer for the government, working primarily with glass and ceramics—the work mimics a pattern typical of the country’s kilim rugs in 206 ceramic pieces. However, in place of the traditionally colorful hues that populate those patterns, Munteanu Rimnic has glazed each piece in bright white, as if performing an erasure of their folkloric significance.
Schmidt and the other gallerists in her proximity benefit from one particular change to the fair layout, which sees Art Cologne’s VIP lounge placed along the back wall of the third floor such that even the most traditional of collectors are pushed through a host of cutting-edge contemporary works on their way for more champagne—or, as is the custom in Cologne, Kölsch.
On the opposite side of the floor, Larissa Bischoff of Frankfurt’s Bischoff Projects reported sales of works by nearly every artist the gallery brought to the fair this year. Particularly of note was a selection of pieces by Juergen Krause and Michael Riedel acquired by the Bundeskunstsammlung, a collection of modern and contemporary works owned by the German federal government, which was established by Willy Brandt in 1970.
Just down the hall from Bischoff, Alex Duve of Duve Berlin was similarly all smiles, having nearly sold out his booth only a couple hours into the fair. Four works from his solo presentation of Jens Einhorn had fallen into the hands of two major collections from the region for €5,800 each (excluding VAT); the net sculptures which correspond to each painting could be had for an additional €500 each. Sales on the two remaining pieces were pending. The young German artist is a new addition for Duve, who has begun a significant overhaul of his program in the past year and will debut the recent Kunstakademie Düsseldorf grad in Berlin this summer.
Collaborations galleries were also faring well. KOW—whose booth with Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler began to take shape all the way back at last year’s Art Basel—had sold no fewer than six works by the end of day one. That tally included three sculptures by Michael E. Smith for $16,500 each, a video by Mario Pfeifer that will be shown during Gallery Weekend Berlin in two weeks for €16,500, and a llama wool weaving that Pfeifer had fabricated in a village located in the northern portion of Chile, which depicts a compound graph describing the demographics of the village (€5,500).
The gallery also sold an edition of newly represented artist Renzo Martens’s The Spirit of Palm Oil / Djonga Bismar (2014) for €9,300. The piece is part of Martens’s ongoing project in the Democratic Republic of Congo, called the Institute for Human Activities. The sculpture’s form is that of an artwork created by one of the Congolese artists at the former Unilever plantation on which the institute is located. The work was then 3D-scanned and recreated in chocolate in Amsterdam. Martens gives the entirety of his 50% share of sales back to the institute for the project, which, rather than being cast as a humanitarian effort, uses existing (art) market realities to attempt to create better outcomes for its collaborators.
Two floors below, the typically tight-lipped modern and postwar dealers appeared to be doing equally well. Red dots began popping up next to works by mid-afternoon. Although many of the dealers present had been on edge about having been moved to a separate floor when I previewed the fair on Tuesday, considering the consistently heavy foot traffic in the section and rumors of multiple sold-out booths, that reticence to change—tied mostly to fears of being separated from the contemporary market darlings—was a thing of the past. This year’s selection toes the line set out by modern and postwar dealers worldwide over the past year: bring on the Gutai and Zero. Sigmar Polke (and the circle of artists around him) is also out in abundance, no doubt in response to his traveling retrospective “Alibis,” which is currently up at the Museum Ludwig.
Among the established contemporary galleries, a more patient atmosphere reigns. The floor was packed throughout Wednesday, with crowds moving further back into the hall as the day progressed, suggesting the arrival of a more local audience as others set off to evening engagements. Especially as contemporary works crest above the €25,000, nevermind the €100,000 mark, collectors here take their time in committing. (It led one keen observer to point out the number of works by highly sought-after artists that a willing international collector could easily snatch up in a quick Wednesday trip to Cologne—whether physical or virtual—that would otherwise be arduous to acquire at a North American fair.)
Without the need for novelties to grab collectors’ eyes within the first minutes of the fair, some of the best presentations on the second floor are actually hidden out of sight. Take, for example, Galerie Karsten Greve’s mini solo show of Jannis Kounellis, tucked in the back-most portion of an enormous booth, away from the buzz of the aisles. It features a large sculptural installation from 2000 and two tar-on-paper abstractions from 2010, opposite a wonderful mixed-media-on-linen piece from 1963. Or, on the near-opposite side of the age spectrum (and just across the hall), Contemporary Fine Arts’ seven new works by Brooklyn’s rising star Borden Capalino, tucked away in a separate room off to the right side of their booth.
As gallerists, collectors, and artists alike gathered at Café Schmitz for fellow CFA artists and Cologne natives Gert & Uwe Tobias’s birthday party (what had become the unofficial after party for the fair, so it seemed), spirits remained high. Many more collectors from further afield were set to arrive in the morning, and more still for a long weekend in Cologne. As ever, the sense was certainty that by Sunday evening, most crates wouldn’t be headed back to their galleries.