The history of post-war Cologne is a history of the emergence of contemporary art itself. In the 1960’s the city was already a center of the art world in Germany where it remained for decades. It was a nerve-center for significant galleries and collectors such as forefathers Peter and Irene Ludwig founder of the eponymous museum – who were among the first in the world to collect Pop Art. Today the city still is home to major collectors (among other, Reiner Speck and Benedikt Taschen) who support established and emerging galleries. Here shows of the absolute highest caliber take place. The best way to discover which works become meaningful to you over time is to go out and see them in person.
We are excited to launch Cologne in our app with Picks of the top 10 shows in town and as always with an interactive map to guide you. There is a saying “If your iPhone still has battery power at 5 pm, you are losing,” so bring an extra charger to make sure not miss the important openings.
A giant of the Cologne art scene is long time stalwart Galerie Gisela Capitain who was close friends with Cologne art star Martin Kippenberger whose estate she cares for with great reverence. She will be opening with an artist we absolutely love, Zoe Leonard. At this moment Leonard is best known for her monumental work on New York’s Highline park I want a president which directly engages the cultural and political climate in the early 90s during the rise of neoliberalism under Bush and seems even truer today under Trump. She is a radical feminist queer-activist whose work includes the iconic merging of photography, sculpture, and installation.
If Gisela Captain is the grande dame of Cologne, then gallerist Daniel Buchholz is the grand seigneur (godfather and foredaddy all rolled into one). He is presenting an artist that continually blows us away (a quiet brilliance in the Whitney Biennial) Cameron Rowland. His solo exhibition "91020000" at Artists Space was absolutely beautiful in the deepest conceptual and visual ways as senior New York Times art critic Roberta Smith said, “The objects offer a history lesson and an aesthetic experience, intricately fused.” The Philadelphia-born artist is a master of minimalist ready-mades that through economic exchange transcend their own objecthood. Disquieting as it is awe inspiring the sculptures directly confront social and racial injustice. His work speaks truth to power, revealing through poetics of found objects the deep reality of inequalities.
These two blue-chip institutions are the pillars of the art scene, but the rooms are filled with daring young galleries that present great shows of emerging artists. Among the biggest rewards of being in art is the chance to meet and get to know artists and engage with the ideas of their practice. Collecting work early in an artist’s career is when it can really make a difference.
At DREI the relatively young and already critically recognized Tiril Hasselknippe is mounting the provocatively titled show “Queens of the Tear Duct.” Hasselknippe has an extremely delicate, refined, and sparse vocabulary of materials, often working in carved wood, cast concrete, and the minimalist idea of “specific objects.” From this economy of forms, she creates an incredible diversity of meanings. Her previous exhibition at the gallery titled “Phones” was in synchrony with ideas of early electronic experimental sound (this is a really hot topic now). She scattered objects in the room: lying on the floor was a blue resin cast carpet, concrete objects were leaning on the wall like flying buttresses, and relief sculptures hung on the wall, strung like instruments.
Another hip gallery, Ginerva Gambino will present “Temporarily Unavailable” a solo show of Gina Folly. Showing fast sketches taken from a series begun in 2013 with scribbles like diary entries they are an intimate slice in the working mind of Folly. A recurring theme of her work is the body, or more specifically its parts which come up repeatedly in the sketches (recalling other series like psychoanalytic drawings or surrealist automatism). Like many artists, today Folly is increasingly concerned with contemporary labor conditions that blur the lines between physical workspace and living space. The whole installation is inside a makeshift domestic setting with cardboard walls, a perfect metaphor for how temporary all our plans are.
One of the most exciting openings, guaranteed to have a jam-packed line to get in, will be at the influential Kölnischer Kunstverein. They will give the space over to New York artist Avery Singer, who dialectically merges painting, photography and the computer world. Calling them "figures and still lifes occupying the realm of unrealized buildings," her images are composed in Google SketchUp and projected onto a canvas where she renders them in painstaking grayscale airbrush. Although recently she has switched directions and included color – the result is arresting. It has many art historical references from the avant-garde of the last century such as cubism to the neo-avant-garde, yet she cites as an influence Albert Oehlen’s Computer Paintings, which she brings to the digital age. Simultaneously there is another exhibition of a fellow Cooper Union graduate two decades older, Danny McDonald. He was one of the original members of the legendary Art Club 2000, the 90s art collective founded by the late gallerist Colin de Land. McDonald moves across video and installation with a very dark but poignant humor. His sculptures contain action figures, dolls, horror film masks, toys, and other ephemera arranged in ways that subvert the American Dream and history – embodying an increasingly absurd political reality.
Each year we enthusiastically await the announcement of the Wolfgang Hahn Prize which is accompanied by an exhibition at Museum Ludwig, one of the largest and most encyclopedic museums of contemporary art in Germany. This year the prize is (duly) awarded to Trisha Donnelly – one of the most deeply complex, conceptual, opaque, and perplexing artists working today. She made the statement that gave the title to Martin Herbert’s brand new book “Tell them I said No” – when she refused to give interviews during her milestone Serpentine Gallery show. She is a quintessential artist of the post-medium condition using photography, sound, video, drawing, and performance but ultimately the most important medium is the artist herself. Her work often asks us to suspend our disbelief as it impossibly controls the natural elements. In one work, for instance, she made it rain. She also spent a great deal of time in Cologne searching for just the right organist to perform in her sound installation for Creative Time’s “The Plain of Heaven” – so it fits she receives this most important Cologne art prize.
Not really in Cologne but in the Rhineland everything is easily accessible, less than an hour train trip away, Museum Haus Lange mounts the first-ever museum exhibition of super-star artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset in the Rhine region – this is long overdue. The two have created a site-specific installation titled “Die Zugezogenen” [The Newcomers], where they transform the museum back into a private home. As usual, there is an extraordinary fictional story replete with convincing details including hiring a real estate agent who posted signs for the sale of the Mies van der Rohe built museum as if it were a house on the market. The imagined German family left the UK post-Brexit to return to their homeland. Combining new sculptures with artifacts and furniture, they create an unsettling domestic home full of phantasmagoria. We enter into the family’s world in the midst of their move, some boxes are still packed, while others already unpacked have their contents carefully put in place. We are immersed in an entire installation that symbolizes changing Europe of today juxtaposed against the utopian ideals of the mid-century “international” architecture – which was bound to fail as all utopias were, are and will be. But we would still like to bid in on the Mies home.
After half a century, Art Cologne, the first contemporary art fair of its kind, is still a global art world destination. Staying relevant for more than five decades is a Sisyphean feat – starting with only 16 local exhibitors in 1967 under Rudolf Zwirner (David’s father) it has bloomed to over 240 international galleries but not without its ups and downs. Hit hard by the 2008 market crash it was revived under the current director Daniel Hug – a much respected American with Swiss roots and coincidently the grandson of László Moholy-Nagy.
We will see if Art Cologne withstands another challenge as competing “art.fair” was purchased by MCH Group (the parent company of Art Basel) and will relocate to rival neighboring city to create Art Düsseldorf in November. The question is, can the Rhineland sustain two major art fairs? So Hug’s team has much to worry about. Yet they played a smart card by taking over Berlin's fledgling abc art berlin contemporary to launch Art Berlin (Maike Cruse of Gallery Weekend and Daniel Hug will co-direct). The pairing of Cologne and Berlin is a strong move, as Hug explained: “Cologne wasn't cool when I got here (in 2008) – everyone wanted to go to Berlin.” Now he is historically bridging the two.
How to best navigate Art Cologne? It is essential to cut through the noise and concentrate on what is significant. Which is why we have partnered with Art Cologne in a cooperation that gives you all the galleries of the Neumarkt and Neumarkt Collaborations sections in our app. Come by our booth A 56 in Hall 11.3 and say hello. We are next to the hippest galleries, including our neighbor piece*unique who is showing our esteemed "Lieblingskünstler," the ever-captivating Gregor Hildebrandt. We will share our discoveries and recommendations with you in real time.
Here are some ways to separate what is significant from what is hype. Consider what you want to live with. Art should be experienced and interacted with, not in off-site storage – if possible. Works should simultaneously be inspiring and intellectually challenging, take note of what makes your heart leap at first and come back to see them more deeply. It is also important to build a lasting relationship with galleries that are showing potential art stars of tomorrow or rediscoveries of overlooked artists.
BolteLang will show Talisa Lallai who brings her Italian roots to the contemporary art dialog with photographs and films (both found and taken) evoking a nostalgic longing for a utopian Italy that no longer exists. EXILE, run by Christian Siekmeier will present among others the Warsaw-born, but German raised Katharina Marszewski. Like Lallai she also makes work deeply connected to personal geography – reconciling the history of Poland with its present political condition through the rich lens of her memory. Lyles & King one of New York’s youngest galleries is bringing paintings by Chris Hood, a painter on our watch list at the moment. Tobias Naehring from Leipzig gives a cross-section of his interesting program, including the extremely sensitive, nearly surrealist, but entirely photo-realistic intimate scaled paintings of Sebastian Burger. These works must be seen in person. Burger takes incredible care, and excruciating long periods of time on each painting (we heard he paints with a single haired brush), in the end, they are gems to experience.
In the Neumarkt Collaborations section are two pairs of galleries we are running to. Galerie Max Mayer (Düsseldorf) co-presenting Jef Geys Le Tour de France 1969 d’Eddy Merckx with the ever profound gallerist Maxwell Graham of Essex Street (New York) where Geys is the current exhibition. An artist of concise precision with very few materials he was a key figure of the mid-century conceptual movements. Deborah Schamoni (Munich) will collaborate with the ultra-smart emerging gallery Project Native Informant (London) to present Judith Hopf, the Berlin-based “cool professor” who brings absurd irony, humor and a filmic influence to sculpture while addressing difficult political issues in an intentionally irreverent way. The two galleries will also present Eric Sidner, and Amalia Ulman whose show at James Fuentes was one of our top 10.
For the first time this year, there is a special commission to an artist for a site-specific work that responds to the architecture of the fair. Michael Riedel – who ingeniously sold his middle initial (S.) as a work of art – was selected for this. He just published a wonderful book with Distanz Verlag and is not surprisingly represented by David Zwirner, but surprisingly was appointed as painting professor at the Academy of Fine Arts Leipzig. True to his practice, which includes every but traditional painting, he exposes the inner workings of power by deconstructing the very secretive process of the Art Cologne selection committee. He recorded sessions of their meetings and transcribed them. From this long text, he isolated every occurrence of the letter “L” (appearing 1,894 times out of the total 53,689 characters) which is also the title of the work. In his signature black and white graphic visual vocabulary he creates wallpaper for the large main entrance hall that spills out onto the floor and into the space.
We will be in top fashion for all the Who’s Who at Cologne Hauptbahnhof on Thursday heading to Berlin for Gallery Weekend. The art world uniform has shifted from Gucci to Calvin Klein under Raf Simons – so we know what to wear both inside and out. Whoever said art events were all serious business?
– Justin Polera