For Its 50th Anniversary, Art Cologne Delivers a Fresher Fair Than Ever

Art Cologne opened its 50th anniversary edition to invited collectors, curators, and other VIPs on Wednesday. The world’s oldest art fair’s golden outing sees 218 galleries from 24 countries present works over three floors and three sections in 2016. And thanks to a few key changes, the fair looks fresher and more internationally relevant than any edition in recent memory. 

  • Installation view of Pearl Lam’s booth at Art Cologne, 2016. Photo courtesy of Art Cologne.

A host of special exhibitions celebrate the anniversary. “Eins, zwei, Wechselschritt” nods to 50 years of art created within Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands, countries which form Art Cologne’s loyal collector base. A special edition of Film Cologne, “Rhine Scope,” looks at the influence of artists from the region. There are well-established names like Nam June Paik and Diana Thater, as well as the newest generation of talents to emerge from the Rhineland, thanks to a fresh set of young galleries here, including artist duo Henning Fehr & Philipp Rühr. The Zentralarchiv des Internationalen Kunsthandels (ZADIK e.V.) has mounted an archival show pulling together photographs from all 50 editions of the fair—which has also been compiled into a book. And Deutsche Bank has mined its renowned collection to present 50 artworks all made in 1967, some of which, according to fair director Daniel Hug, were even shown at the inaugural edition.

“It’s a special time at the moment,” said Hug on the eve of Art Cologne’s vernissage. “There is a lot of change in the air, so the sort of stability that Cologne has and has offered, is welcomed right now.” Hug points to changes in the fair landscape such as the emergence of gallery-led fairs with non-traditional structures, like Paris Internationale or Paramount Ranch, as one shift among many. Such shifts have occurred within a tenuous political and economic environment, the tremors of which have been felt across the art market calendar in the first months of this year.

  • Installation view of Deutsche Bank’s presentation at Art Cologne, 2016. Photo courtesy of Art Cologne.

But Cologne has its advantages, and among those is its diversification. “It’s a classic fair format, looking at the big picture of the entire 20th and 21st centuries,” said Hug. This structure allows the fair to weather collectors’ changing tastes more gracefully than some of its more singularly focused peers, which focus solely on either older or fresh-from-the-studio work. Even so, Cologne has had its ups and downs. “The 50th anniversary book kind of reads like a crime novel,” joked Hug. “But there was a lot of experimentation from the beginning.” And, today, that experimentation continues to keep the fair looking far younger than its 50 years.

Last year saw the fair spread from two to three floors, with distinct environments separating galleries showing classical modern and post-war art from those showing established contemporary, and, finally, from young galleries presenting emerging artists. Though the move generated its fair share of trepidation ahead of the start of the 49th edition, by Sunday, nearly all sung the new layout’s praises. This year sees a more subtle but arguably as-impactful change in the layout. A number of major new galleries signing on for Art Cologne’s 50th anniversary, Paris’s Perrotin and Vienna’s Krinzinger among them, has allowed for an entrance to the second floor that looks hardly distinguishable from an entrance to Art Basel: Ropac, Zwirner, Sprüth Magers, Hauser & Wirth, Neu, Hetzler, Werner, Perrotin. Cologne is ultimately a different kind of fair than Basel, trading mainly off of its local collector base rather than creating a hub for collectors to fly in to from around the world. But the difference in quality here from even five years ago is astonishing.

  • Installation view of Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac’s booth at Art Cologne, 2016. Photo courtesy of Art Cologne.

“The fair really has momentum,” said Lisa Bosse, Berlin director of London and Berlin’s Blain Southern, on opening day. Bosse noted that several other important galleries had joined the fair this year. (Blain Southern joined last year and, this year, presents works by a new addition to its stable, Chiharu Shiota, as well as Jonas Burgert, Lynn Chadwick, and François Morellet, among others.) “There is a rich established tradition of collecting in the Rhineland and this really is the best place to come to meet [collectors],” Bosse added.

Potentially threatening the momentum, according to the director, is Art Cologne’s conflicting dates with Gallery Weekend Berlin next year—the fair having moved its 2017 edition back two weeks due to Easter’s late date and the corresponding holidays in the Rhine region. “When you work with an artist on a project for 1.5 years like we have with Jonas for next Gallery Weekend, you want to put all your effort towards that one thing,” explained Bosse of the tension felt even by a very large outfit such as theirs. “At the same time, it would be a real shame not to be here because Cologne has become such a major part of our agenda.” For his part, fair director Hug is confident that Art Cologne and Gallery Weekend can come to a mutually beneficial understanding once media attention has cooled following the fair. One would think international attendees to both events will increase if the two organizations can collaborate rather than compete.

  • Installation view of Hauser & Wirth’s booth at Art Cologne, 2016. Photo courtesy of Art Cologne.

34 Revolutionary Women Artists Inaugurate the New Hauser Wirth & Schimmel

At Hauser & Wirth, sales were off to a solid start. Two editions of Richard Jackson’s Ain’t Painting a Pain (2012) sold for $75,000 apiece. (The work sees “painting” produced in neon script four times, each one lit based on the corresponding word noted in the title.) Jackson’s The Men’s Room / The Trophy Room (2004) also found a buyer at $55,000. The highlight of the booth is the artist’s site-specific wall painting, which was receiving interest from two museums, and marks the first time the artist has created one for a fair. His wall works range in price from $75,000–180,000, depending on their size and the way in which they’re installed. However, framed preparatory drawings for the works installed at Art Cologne are also available. “Cologne has a history of showing American art. Galleries in this region were the first to show Nauman, Serra, Stella. So we wanted to bring a good group of American artists,” said gallery executive director Florian Berktold of his booth, which combines Jackson with Paul McCarthy and Jason Rhodes. The selection serves as “a bit of an extended L.A. moment for us,” added Berktold in a nod to the gallery’s new Los Angeles space, Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, which currently features a critically acclaimed show of 34 women artists.

Perhaps no one knows Art Cologne’s ups and downs better than Raimund Thomas of Munich’s 52-year old Galerie Thomas, who will be awarded the 2016 Art Cologne Prize. “We haven’t missed a single Art Cologne,” said gallery director Heike Grossmann. At the fair, they’ve created a specially installed booth titled “Big Anniversary — Small Artworks” with a recessed section in which to show, as the title suggests, small works by artists on the range from Marc Chagall and Wassily Kandinsky to the very youngest artists in their program like Simon Schubert. “There are works in the booth from €500 up into the millions,” added Grossman, reporting sales of two pieces for up to €20,000 in the fair’s first hours. “That was always the direction and thought behind the gallery. We want to reach a wide variety of people.” In its early years, Art Cologne had a similar focus. “The first editions of the fair were much more about prints and editions,” said Grossman. “I think the galleries wanted to get as many people as possible interested in art and to give them an opportunity to buy art. A print by a good artist was much more affordable in the ’60s.”

  • Installation view of Galerie Thomas’s booth at Art Cologne, 2016. Photo courtesy of Art Cologne.

And, though prices have risen in the past 50 years, and Art Cologne’s stock has risen in step, the fair is by no means a relic. Particularly of note in this regard is the number of galleries who are sharing booths, both within the official Collaborations section (a joint effort by Art Cologne and NADA) and in the fair’s main section. In the latter group is Munich, Zurich, and Lustenau’s Häusler Contemporary who shares a booth with Mexico City’s Galería OMR. “It was a beautiful way to introduce us at this fair,” said OMR’s Kerstin Erdmann. “We each help the other meet collectors either in Mexico or Germany. It’s a kind of collaboration that represents a new era of how a gallery could be,” she added, echoing Hug’s thoughts on the concurrent evolution of the market, galleries, and fairs. The tie is made all the stronger thanks to Gary Kuehn’s Crate Piece (1969) in the booth. “It was shown at the Cologne art fair in ’69. And it was in storage since then,” with the exception of a Kuehn exhibition in Stadt Aachen in 1971, said Hausler co-founder Wolfgang Hausler. “No one knew where it was. But we recently found it and restored the piece. It is wonderful to be able to show it this year because of that history.” It’s a fitting presentation within a fair that, in its old age, is merging history with the present to offer arguably its freshest presentation yet.


Alexander Forbes


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