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    Love Cologne
by April Elizabeth Lamm
 
     
 
Alexandre Cabanel
The Birth of Venus
1863
in "Fascination Venus" at the Wallraf-Richartz Museum
 
Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem
Venus and Vulcan
1590
in "Fascination Venus"
 
Hans Arp
Female Torso
1953
at the Ludwig Museum
 
Jim Lambie
Love Hangover
2000
at the Modern Institute
 
Jim Lambie
Radar Love
2000
at the Modern Institute
 
Nina Borgmann (left) and Caroline Nathusius
 
Christian Haye
 
Friedrich Kunath
video still from After a While You Know the Style
at BQ
 
Jean-Pierre Khazem
Untitled
2000
at Emmanuel Perrotin
 
Constanza Ruhm
Kiss
2000
at Kerstin Engholm
 
Birgit Brenner
at Eigen + Art
 
Henrik Håkansson
The Thin Line
2000
at Franco Noero
 
If Paris is the city of love and Las Vegas is "sin city," then what is Cologne? Something about perfume, I imagine. In search of the answer, I visited the big "Fascination Venus" show at the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Oct. 14, 2000-Jan. 7, 2001, and also canvassed the recent Cologne Art Fair, Nov. 5-12, 2000, for "love for sale." After all that, I wouldn't hesitate to call Cologne the second city of love.

For the Old Masters, love was represented by the mythological goddess Venus, whom they depicted almost always completely naked. At the Wallraf-Richartz, all this hot naked love -- 70 paintings, 20 sculptures, 25 drawings and 50 etchings -- was displayed in rooms painted a cool steel blue, as if too much red would have thrown the museum goers into an indecorous tizzy of passion.

Selected by a team of curators that included Ursula Weber-Woelk, Claudia Denk, Konrad Renger, Silke Kurth and Andreas Büttner, the Venus show crosses geographic and chronological boundaries, stretching from Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) to Paul Cézanne (1839-1906). The show subsequently appears at the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, Feb. 1-Apr. 2, 2001, and the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerp, May 20-Aug. 15, 2001.

Sometimes Venus is a creature of the sea, as in Alexandre Cabanal's The Birth of Venus (1863), where she reclines on the crest of a wave, her eyes languishingly opened, hinting to an ecstasy unspeakable. At other times, Venus is portrayed as the lamenting and sorrowful wife of Vulcan, who is shown in Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem's Venus and Vulcan (1590) hard at work, perhaps on that magical net in which he would ensnare his unfaithful wife and her lover Adonis, exposing them to the laughter of the gods above.

I ventured upstairs to the Ludwig Museum on the qui vive for the love motif in modern art. I found a sensual Hans Arp Female Torso (1953) made of cold marble; an Ernst Ludwig Kirchner undated half-length portrait of a tart revealing her breasts; and Max Beckmann's Pair of Lovers, Green and Yellow (1940-48). Judging by the Ludwig collection, it would seem that the Bauhaus school neglected love altogether in favor of heady composition and color games.

None of us today would look at a reclining nude like Goya's Maya Desnudo or Manet's Olympia (or a spread-eagled, found-on-the-internet photograph by Thomas Ruff) and think, oh yes, right, Love. We tend to connect all things fleshy and revealing with the coarse idea of sex as a carnal act of pleasure and sport, whereas Love is the celestial goal post, right?

Perhaps Love is better represented through Conceptual Art?

At Art Cologne
The soothsaying Beatles sang the truth, "Money can't buy you love." But can money buy you love art? Mais, oui, at Art Cologne it can.

Take for instance Love Hangover by Jim Lambie, on view at the booth of Glasgow's The Modern Institute, where it was snatched up by a young Berlin dealer for a mite £2,000. Lambie is best known for making stripey floor pieces with colored tape that follows the room's contours, but here, what's a love hangover? A pink leather belt attached to the floor, with its buckle head straining towards the heavens above, much like a charmed Egyptian cobra.

I asked Modern Institute co-owner Toby Webster to ask Lambie what he thinks love is (in a nutshell), and he responded (in a nutshell), "Magic." Lambie is also a big fan of the band "Love" from LA. He used to be in a band called "The Boy Hairdressers" himself, whose popularity reached cult status in Japan.

Lambie also had another nice piece on view called Radar Love. Attached to a corner of the booth were two black rubber bicycle handles with multi-colored streamers dangling extra-long down to the floor. Just imagining them flying high in the wind from a speedy bike ride conjures up a lot of that high one feels, frisch verliebt -- freshly in love.

Love, New York style
Over at the booth of brand-new Cologne gallerists Nina Borgmann and Caroline Nathusius was a set of Love Seats by New York artist Douglas Wada (b. 1964). Wada makes realistic paintings of everyday things -- here, a pair of red seats from the New York subway that can be yours for eternity for DM 7,500. An ordinary kind of love?

When I asked dealer Christian Haye to show me the love he brought to the fair from his Harlem gallery The Project, he cheekily replied, "We forgot the smut!" Then he showed me a lovely series of big black-and-white photographs called "Dreams" by the Argentinian artist Martín Weber. In one photo, a couple sits at neighboring tables in a poor countryside cafe; the man holds up a chalk board on which he scribbled a "dream" of his which reads, "She thinks only of me." In another picture, a man dressed up as Christ in his thorny crown holds up a chalk board reading, "I work for my family." Love's labor lost? In an edition of six, these "Dreams" (1994-98) were selling for $3,600 each.

Love in Hamburg, Paris, Vienna…
Falling (for love) all over the streets of Hamburg was the young East German artist Friedrich Kunath (b. 1974), whose video, After a While You Know the Style, shows him flinging himself to the pavement as if he has the falling sickness, a big duffle bag making his plight all the more pitiable and inviting to the kindness of strangers. A song by the British pop group Oasis, Rocking Chair, plays on the soundtrack. This ersatz music video is DM 200 in an edition of 50. The entire booth of Cologne gallery BQ was dedicated to Kunath, the installation entitled "Let's Live Where the Indoors and the Outdoors meet!"

The music was hopping also over at the Parisian Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, where Paris's cutest and most loveable gallery assistant -- Adeline -- showed me the photograph of a recling nude by the Lebanese artist Jean-Pierre Khazem. Khazem has his models wear weird masks; his work has also been featured in ads for Levis and Heineken. This big nude, untitled, had me baffled with her ample curves (real) and baby-doll-like face (fake). 16,000 FF would get you one of an edition of 3.

For her piece Kiss, the Austrian artist Constanza Ruhm made a virtual building on the computer, and then created a video in which the structure fills slowly with light until it nearly explodes in whiteness. Actually on view in the booth of Kerstin Engholm Galerie is a huge C-print still (260 by 180 cm) from the video -- sort of like the kiss much wished for and never received at the end of a good first date. The implosion of a prude. This Kiss is selling for DM 15,000 in an edition of 3.

Knitting, and Plants
Knitting herself into and out of the memory of her loved-one-no-more was the German artist Birgit Brenner whose threads of her unravelled sweater read (in German, translated here): "I am forgetting you, but don't you forget me." The photograph of Brenner up to her eyeballs in red sweater was selling in an edition of 3 for DM 7,000 at Eigen + Art.

The gentlemanly wild man art dealer Franco Noero of Torino showed the work of Henrik Håkansson (b. 1968), a Swedish artist who is currently in residence at the Kunstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin. For $12,000 you could purchase his sculpture, The Thin Line Between Love and Hate (Only for the Lonely), a group of Tillandsia plants from the island Tobago, where they grow naturally on telephone wires -- exactly Håkansson's cup of tea, nature mixed with technology.

Back in 1995 Håkansson held a rave party in a marsh in Sweden for a group of frogs -- documented by the video "Out There Stoned Immaculate" -- who apparently responded well to the beat, croaking in tune." (His Kunsthalle Basel solo show, "Tomorrow and Tonight," was in 1999.) He also organized a concert of 1000 crickets in a piece called The Monsters of Rock Tour. I'm charmed already... Oh, dear, is it love again? And my prince plays with frogs? Ai, Maria, at least I won't have to kiss any more of them!


APRIL ELIZABETH LAMM writes on art in Germany.