ART COLOGNE 2017 (artcologne 2017) is an art fair for international art galleries presenting art of the 20th and 21st centuries in Cologne, Germany. It is the oldest fair of its kind having started with just 18 galleries in 1967. Today around 200 commercial galleries come together each spring to present works by over 2.000 artists, covering all price segments from well-known blue-chip artists to the newest young and emerging artists.
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Having managed to lure in several blue-chip exhibitors in recent editions, the fair is again a force to be reckoned with.
The VIP preview of Art Cologne’s 51st edition, Germany’s oldest and grandest art fair, opened a day earlier this year due to a scheduling clash with Berlin Gallery Weekend (the fair also ends a day earlier, on Saturday). This overlap in dates, caused by an overfull art calendar and the German Easter Holidays, had the two cities’ art scenes pitted against each other, with some dealers having to choose between the two major events—and suffer the consequences in terms of sales.
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Meanwhile, a new fair has been announced for the Rhineland: In February, MCH Group, the parent company of Art Basel, announced its stake in a new fair launching in November, Art Düsseldorf.
As for Düsseldorf, he suspects that MCH are doing it as a test run for other fairs.
Contemplating what’s motivating MCH’s strategy, he says, “Their goal is not to dominate the art world; they don’t have evil intentions. But the side effects of what they’re doing will be similar to what Nestlé is doing. Sure, they’re going to clean the water, they’ll bottle it, and make it safe—get the bacteria out. But they’re also going to sell it back to us.”
“Art fairs are here to reflect the art market,” he continues. “When an art fair or a private commercial entity goes into the proactive role of determining not only what happens in the art world, but also where, and who gets to show, that’s really dangerous. And it’s not going to work.”
The gallery reported a flurry of sales on preview day, including several works by Jorinde Voigt, Alicja Kwade, and Camille Henrot, and others. An Elmgreen & Dragset piece fetched €150,000, and a painting by Norbert Bisky, whom the gallery has recently added to its stable, went for €37,500. Meanwhile, it seems that Andreas Schmitten, an emerging talent picked up by the gallery, has managed to convince the collectors in the Rhineland: five of his large installations changed hands.
It’s the Rhineland collectors—well informed, intellectual, and as solid as the German Mittlestand—that attracted several new galleries to Cologne this year, including Gagosian, David Kordansky Gallery, and Galerie Daniel Templon. For some dealers, this means doing three consecutive fairs, schlepping their wares from Brussels, to Cologne, and then Frieze New York—but what’s another fair when you’re already doing an average of one per month?
At the core of the presentation stands Chris Burden‘s work Buddha’s Fingers (2014-15), by an artist who—according to the gallery’s Jona Lueddeckens, the booth’s curator—has the distinction of being the first one that Gagosian formally represented.
This is Hug’s ninth edition as the fair’s director, and until now, as he told artnet News, his aim was to “remind everyone how central the region was” by bringing Cologne back to its former glory. He pursued dealers like Hans Mayer, Michael Werner, Lahumière—the old guard—to woo them back into the fair, “and we’ve succeeded!” he said. “We celebrated 50 years last year, and now for this edition I wanted to point into the future.”
With galleries like Hauser & Wirth, White Cube, and Gagosian now featured on the fair’s exhibitors’ list, the focus on contemporary art is felt all throughout Art Cologne’s three levels. This happens at a time when, with the new German art law coming into effect, some of the fair’s core exhibitors dealing with Modern art might be facing an uncertain future, and the ground level reserved for them was—atypically—filled with works dating from the 2000s up until 2016.
As Hug pointed out, fairs reflect the market. The German one has just gotten a bit more exciting.
Hili Perlson, April 26, 2017
2017 ArtCologne Hans Mayer Galerie | Daniel Templon