Installation view of KÖNIG GALERIE’s booth at Art Cologne, 2016. Photo courtesy of Art Cologne.
The 50th anniversary edition of Art Cologne closed on Sunday, following five days of steady sales at the Koelnmesse. The art market is experiencing a global slowdown, at pace with the macroeconomic environment at large, and getting used to a new normal of sorts. Sales across fairs this year have been tempered in comparison to the past few, and slower to actualize. But for the sage Art Cologne, this new normal is more of an enduring and unceasingly successful status quo. The world’s oldest art fair is, as ever, a slow and steady affair, with notoriously discerning German collectors disliking the pressure to purchase a piece within the first few hours of a fair. They come in droves—more than 60,000 people visited the fair last week—and they look, but many purchases come towards the fair’s end or even months thereafter.
“It’s the perfect fair for collectors to buy art because they don’t have to decide if they will buy a piece within the first hour or two,” said Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac Salzburg’s executive director Dr. Arne Ehmann. “Overall, it’s a different time in the market than three or four years ago. You can really feel that the collectors are taking their time to make a decision,” he continued, noting that the loyalty of the Rhine region’s collectors to Art Cologne is what keeps dealers coming back. “German collectors are so important for us. And they come back to this fair every year.” Though they noted that sales weren’t quite as fast-moving as in past years, the gallery sold a large solvent transfer by Robert Rauschenberg, New Yoicks (Spread) (1980) for $1.55 million on the first day to a private collector from the U.S. Other sales included two sculptures by Antony Gormley for £350,000 and £150,000, respectively, and works by Marc Brandenburg, Georg Baselitz, and Erwin Wurm, who will represent Austria at the 2017 Venice Biennale.
Installation view of Galerie von Vertes’s booth at Art Cologne, 2016. Photo courtesy of Art Cologne.
Zurich’s Galerie von Vertes was the only other dealer to report breaking into the seven figures, having sold a painting by Joan Miró for over €1 million. Six-figure sales were relatively more prevalent, with Art Cologne Prize winner Galerie Thomas selling, among other works, a work by Alexej von Jawlensky for €220,000; Galerie Remmert und Barth selling Paul Klee’s watercolor Die Idee des Hahns (1918) for €270,000; Eigen + Art selling a painting by David Schnell for €140,000; and Pearl Lam selling Chun Kwang Young’s Aggregation 11 - AP030 Blue and Red (2011) for €160,000.
Pearl Lam managing director Harriet Onslow reported that the gallery’s repeat attendance at Art Cologne had brought forth this year’s success. “It’s the second year we’ve done the fair. Last year wasn’t very good at all, but we have a three-fair rule,” said Onslow. “This year has been quite good.” The gallery is the only exhibitor based in Asia at what the director aptly characterized as “a very European fair,” and it is still in the process of gaining exposure for its artists in the region. However, works by Pino Pinelli and Yuan Zuo were also reported as sold—for €17,000 and €20,000, respectively—by Friday evening.
Installation view of Galerie nächt St. Stephan’s booth at Art Cologne, 2016. Photo courtesy of Art Cologne.
The 2014 Art Cologne Prize winner Rosemarie Schwarzwälder bucked the slow and steady trend, with a flurry of sales early in the fair and more trickling in as the week wore on. “I think I’ve sold even better this year than last year,” said the gallerist, noting that the success is the result of her Galerie nächst St. Stephan’s long engagement with the region’s collectors and museums. In Art Cologne’s first few hours, Schwarzwälder sold a work on paper and a canvas by the ever-hot Katharina Grosse for €28,500 and €49,000, respectively; two of Daniel Knorr’s sculptures, Depression Elevation (Berlin, Neukölln) (2015, €37,000) and Depression Elevation (Berlin, Tiergarten, First Modernist) (2016, €30,000) from his series of multi-colored casts of the depressions in which puddles form in various cities; and Sonia Leimer’s stool I beam (2015) for €4,300. Later days saw two paintings by Herbert Brandl and three works by Günter Umberg also sell. No fewer than three collectors were vying for the monumental four-by-eight meter work by Grosse that hung on the booth’s exterior. But its large size and €300,000 asking price meant that, in the Rhineland, negotiations would continue after the fair’s close.
Schwarzwälder’s performance was indicative of the price range in which most galleries on the fair’s middle floor, of established contemporary galleries, were seeing success. Art Cologne is distinct from other fairs in its strong performance in the middle of the market, while others currently see most success with very established or very young artists. That’s thanks to the so-called German “Mittelstand,” the many small industrial operations which power the German export economy and whose owners collect art with unsurpassed dedication.
Success in this price range was also evident at Berlin’s KÖNIG GALERIE. So rampant were sales on opening day that the gallery had to bring more works from the German capital to Cologne on the fair’s second day. A mirror installation by Alicja Kwade sold for €80,000 (another, priced at €30,000, was in its place by Friday), a painting by Tatiana Trouvé for €70,000, a mid-size painting by Grosse for €60,000, a number of Jorinde Voigt’s works on paper now mounted on canvas for €30,000; pieces by Annette Kelm and Johannes Wohnseifer also sold. “Our biggest success was with Paul Czerlitzki,” reported director Gregor Hose, the Bundeskunstsammlung (The Federal Collection of Contemporary Art) having purchased two works for €9,000 apiece. He noted that this level of performance was typical for the gallery in Cologne, the hometown of gallerist Johann König. But the city does, Hose remarked, have its differences from other major art markets. Take the sculpture by Camille Henrot on the stand, for example: “In the U.S., you would sell eight editions right away. Here you sell two because it’s quite a high price.”
“I’m not sure that you can sell artworks for €150,000, but up to €40,000, things are very good,” concurred Robby Greif, director of Vienna’s Christine König Galerie. “This is important. Mid-career artists have a tough time right now.” The gallery was among those who mounted an additional solo presentation as part of Art Cologne’s New Positions section. Their entrant, 39-year-old German artist Andreas Duscha, was formerly part of the artist collective Mahony and had his first solo show with the gallery in January. His presentation at the fair focuses on the dazzle camouflage developed by British artist Norman Wilkinson for Allied warships during World War I, which was “meant to confuse rather than to conceal,” said Greif. “Andreas’s work is all about communication, what’s said versus what’s understood.” Four pieces from the installation sold, starting at €1,600. “We tried to keep the prices low due to showing the work in New Positions,” added Greif. “The price should be something where a collector who has never heard of Duscha’s work before can feel comfortable buying it.” The gallery also did well with works by Natalia Zaluska, an artist who began working at the gallery while at the Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien, only showing her work to gallery founder Christine König during her graduation show. König picked her up for a show immediately, and a number of other galleries quickly followed suit.
Installation view of Capitain Petzel’s booth at Art Cologne, 2016. Photo courtesy of Art Cologne.
German collectors are also distinct in the ambition they bring to collecting. While the Mittelstand base makes for a lot of painting at Art Cologne, the country also has one of the highest concentrations of private museums in the world. Among the most challenging-to-install works purchased at the fair was Andrea Bowers’s Radical Feminist Pirate Ship Tree Sitting Platform (2013) at Berlin’s Capitain Petzel. The eight-meter-long installation went to a private collection in Germany for $85,000. “It takes a lot of courage to do that,” said the gallery’s Jorge Sanguino. “It was probably the most difficult piece we brought to the fair.” Constructed out of recycled wood, the ship is the dream of the environmental activist and feminist artist’s tree-sitting assistant. “She asked him what was the ideal platform for tree sitting,” said Sanguino. He said a pirate ship, which resonated with Bowers via radical feminist scholar Mary Daly’s use of pirate imagery.
Upstairs, in the section of the fair for younger galleries, results at Berlin’s KOW showed a similar penchant for difficult work and strong sense of community among the collectors at Art Cologne. “I don’t know any other place where it’s like this,” said gallerist Raphael Oberhuber, “but there are these networks of collectors in this region who all talk to each other,” recommending various artists and galleries that they can support jointly. The gallery, which takes part in the fair’s Collaborations sector for the second year in a row with Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, sold a painting by Dierk Schmidt, a sculpture by Michael E. Smith from his recent show at the Kunstverein Hannover, and a video by Barbara Hammer. “We usually sell more after the fair than we do during,” said Oberhuber, echoing many galleries of Art Cologne’s pace. Pieces around the €10,000 mark were selling best, according to the gallerist, who noted the positive experience that the Collaborations sector affords; both his gallery and Kraupa-Tuskany had made sales to the other’s collectors at this year’s fair. “We enjoy our success together,” said Oberhuber. “It’s never good to think short-term.”
Installation view of KOW and Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler’s joint booth at Art Cologne, 2016. Photo courtesy of Art Cologne.
It’s an appropriate sentiment for Art Cologne’s 50th anniversary. Started by a group of gallerists and steadily iterated upon to remain relevant amidst major shifts in the art market over the following half-century, the fair and its region have borne one of the most consistently strong markets out there, one that no doubt will support a wealth of artists and galleries for years to come.