Art Cologne’s Long-Awaited Return Is Met with Enthusiastic Sales from Local Collectors
Just as the choir of European fairs was about to sing a victory song for a successful round of fall events, a spike in COVID-19 cases throughout the region threatened Art Cologne, the season’s last major gathering. Despite the setback, the world’s oldest art fair was finally able to open its doors to the public on November 17th after being delayed for over two years due to the pandemic. After a very long and painful pause, Art Cologne’s 150 participating galleries and dealers from more than 20 countries were looking forward to returning.
“If the fair had been in two weeks, it definitely wouldn’t have taken place,” said one gallerist who asked to remain anonymous. “We are lucky!” This mood was ubiquitous and hovered within the booths during the fair’s preview, with many gallerists declaring their amazement at seeing so many visitors in the event’s first hours. “Germans usually never arrive immediately at noon at the preview—they take it easy,” said Alexander Hattwig of Galerie Crone. “Moreover, this year there is again the threat of the coronavirus, so I was very surprised to see such a busy preview as early as noon.” By that evening, the gallery had already sold two works by Milen Till—Black and Orange (Carmen Herrera) and Das schwarze Quadrat (Kasimir Malevich) (both 2021)—for around €10,000 ($11,369) each.
Similar to many other art fairs around the world this past year, attendees at Art Cologne were predominantly local. The fair reported that around 90 percent of this year’s attendees have been German, mainly from the region North Rhine-Westphalia, though some gallerists have also observed the presence of collectors from Belgium, Switzerland, and the south of Germany. In such hard times, these details are important. The fact that collectors decided to travel from southern Germany to come to Art Cologne, despite a growing number of COVID-19 cases, is something very valuable.
This intentionality was made apparent from the get-go—collectors arrived immediately, and bought immediately. In addition to the awe of seeing so many attendees, many galleries proudly declared sales in the first hours of the preview. Galerie nächst St. Stephan Rosemarie Schwarzwälder, for example, sold a work by Daniel Knorr for €30,500 ($39,607) and three drawings by Imi Knoebel for €33,000 ($37,344).
Philipp von Rosen said that the fair was very good for his namesake gallery, allowing him to reconnect with many of his clients in person. His gallery sold a work by Ignacio Uriarte for €16,500 ($18,759) and one by Joseph Beuys for €5,000 ($5,684). “I’m sure the fair will be a success, despite this damn virus,” he said enthusiastically.
Esther Schipper also claimed to be very happy, and no wonder: Within the first hour of the fair, her eponymous gallery sold many works, including a large painting by Sarah Buckner titled Untitled (Bacchanal) (2021). By the end of the day, the booth had sold out of works by Cemile Sahin. Also on view in the gallery’s booth is a version of Simon Fujiwara’s character known as “Who The Bær,” previously seen at Fondazione Prada in Milan this summer, as well as two wonderful kinetic works by Rosa Barba. Galerie Eigen + Art did very well too, selling a painting by Igor Hosnedl for €12,000 ($13,643) and two paintings by Brett Charles Seiler for prices between €4,000 and €6,000 ($4,547–$6,821) each.
Many galleries at this year’s Art Cologne have taken the opportunity to present new and fresh works after the fair’s long hiatus. Generally speaking, painting prevailed as the medium of choice for collectors. Galerie Eigen + Art sold works by up-and-coming artist Madeleine Roger-Lacan, whose surreal paintings are often rendered on uniquely shaped canvases.
Meanwhile, two of Jonas Weichsel’s impressive high-chroma canvases at Galerie Thomas Schulte’s booth, both titled Interstellar Painting (2021), sold for €17,000 ($19,327) apiece. The gallery also sold Leunora Salihu’s impressive sculpture Turm (2020) for €35,000 ($39,792) in the days leading up to the fair, and four recent prints by Maria Loboda for €2,100 ($2,387) each. And at Deborah Schamoni’s booth, two concrete sheep by Judith Hopf were acquired by the Bundeskunstsammlung, Germany’s federal contemporary art collection.
Elsewhere at the fair, Alexander Levy presents a precious booth with research-based works that bolster our understanding of natural phenomena. In Julius von Bismarck’s series “Fire with Fire,” for example, natural catastrophes mirror and influence our relationship with nature. Nearby, Soy Capitán’s presentation is a pure gem of delicacy and humor, with works by Paloma Proudfoot and Matthias Dornfeld.
König Galerie has a small but powerful presentation. Its first-day sales included a work by Katharina Grosse, which sold for €230,000 ($261,495), and several paintings by Conny Maier that went for €15,000 ($17,054) each. Presented in its own booth, Maier’s work is part of the fair’s “New Positions” program, which gives galleries the opportunity to showcase young artists in a dedicated space.
The fair’s “Collaborations” section is also a riot of gems and surprises, with galleries teaming up to present some of their strongest works in dialogue with one another. Clages and Rob Tufnell’s intense and colorful booth is a case in point, showcasing works by Anne Pöhlmann and Bernhard Walter to splashy effect—the joint booth has already sold nine works.
Overall, the quality of work at Art Cologne this year is very high and, because the fair is rather small, the general experience is quite pleasant and relaxed, even with all of the first day bustle. Speaking to attendees and gallerists, a topic that has been the leitmotif of many of this year’s European fairs emerged once again: The traditional fair format, with hundreds of galleries amassed in a frenetic circus, perhaps no longer works and should be reconsidered. It’s evident that more and more people wish for more intimate events that allow for proper conversations and the ability to experience artworks calmly.
Jimmie Durham, Himmel und Erde muessen vergehen, 2000. Courtesy of Christine König Galerie.
Just as the fair’s first day wound to a close, sad news of artist Jimmie Durham’s passing arrived. Christine König Galerie had sold one of the artist’s paintings, prophetically titled Late Last Night (2010), minutes before receiving word of his death. “Jimmie Durham insisted that we take nothing for granted,” read Christine König Galerie’s newsletter the following morning, quoting the critic Michael Archer. “Language, objects, institutions—the base elements that constitute ‘the way things are’—are all held up to scrutiny, only to show us that things are also always some other way, too. With disarming humor but utter penetrative seriousness, he offered ‘interruptions to authoritative history,’ the effect of which is to put everything into question, even the ground on which we stand.”
In many ways, these words are befitting of the tumultuous times we continue to find ourselves in. They remind us that we should not take anything for granted, and to make the most of those opportunities we do have to gather together and see art in person.
Thumbnail image: Installation view of Klemm’s booth at Art Cologne, 2021. Photo by Graysc. Courtesy of Klemm’s.