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|Cologne and Collecting
by Barbara Weidle
|Change is in the air in Cologne. Wrapped Old Master paintings are stacked on the second floor of the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum/Museum Ludwig, which is located on the edge of the Rhine next to the imposing Cologne Cathedral. The walls of the huge galleries, until now dedicated to the Wallraf-Richartz's collection of paintings dating from the Middle Ages to the late 19th century, are nearly empty. Only the basement galleries are still filled with art -- a wonderful farewell show called "Fascination of Venus: Paintings of a Goddess from Cranach to Cabanel."
Part of the museum, the Wallraf-Richartz Museum, is moving to a new building. As if that weren't enough, the Ludwig also has a new director, the famous curator Kasper König from the Städelschule Frankfurt, who started his job in Cologne on Nov. 1, and from whom a lot is expected not only for his new institution but for the whole city.
The Wallraf-Richartz's move was set into motion by the late mega-collector Peter Ludwig, who supplied the facility's huge Pop art collection as well as its name when it was opened in 1986. Ludwig, as it happened, also donated his extensive collection of Picasso paintings to the city in 1995 -- on the condition that the building eventually be devoted entirely to the art of the 20th and 21st centuries. So, in October 1995 the Cologne City Council decided to erect a new building for the Wallraf-Richartz on a site close to city hall.
Ludwig and his wife, Irene Ludwig, bought art on a grand scale. Their loans and donations fill museums in Cologne, Aachen, Budapest, St. Petersburg, Beijing and even Havana. As a sign of their wide-ranging tastes, a visitor can see their collection of Asian art at the Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst (Museum for the Art of Eastern Asia), still another branch of the same facility.
Irene Ludwig's more recent acquisitions -- all 80 works were purchased during the last two years -- are on view in "From Matisse to Morimura" at the Ludwig Museum. Among the selections are a beautiful coast scene by Degas, watercolors and ink and pencil drawings by Léger, a still life and a self-portrait by Matisse, and excellent works by Wols, Klee, Popova, Rauschenberg, Johns and Hockney.
A real surprise is a group of 57 so-called "Standard Models" from the early '70s by the "Neo-Expressionist" A. R. Penck, which engage in an interesting visual dialogue with Fluxus objects by Robert Filliou, Dieter Roth and George Brecht. Two impressive films by the South African Artist William Kentridge, excellent drawings by young German draftsman and sculptor Saskia Niehaus and New York based Ik-Joong Kang´s installation, Buddha Learning English, demonstrate that the collector (and her advisors) have a good eye for new art.
The new Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, designed by German star architect Oswald Mathias Ungers, is an easy ten-minute walk away in the very heart of old Cologne. The elegant but severe museum cube, faced with basalt lava and sandstone tuff from the Eifel hills nearby, is bordered by the ruins of the Gothic church of St. Alban and the Gürzenich, a trade center from the 17th century, which was enlarged during the 1950s with an annex by architect Rudolf Schwarz.
The new museum has few windows; rather, on its façade is a perfectly fitting work by Ian Hamilton Finlay -- two rows of plaques filled with the names of artists represented in the museum, like Monet, Rubens, van Gogh, Corot, Rembrandt, Munch, Courbet and van Dyck.
The museum is scheduled to open on Jan. 19, 2001, but not too long ago the city and its architect invited journalists to walk through the completely finished but still empty building. It was a rare opportunity, and fun as well, to see a museum in its virgin state.
This jewel-box of a structure, which cost 63 million DM to build, offers 2,700 square meters for the permanent collection, 600 square meters more than the former facility. The panoramic view out of the museum's corner window -- most of the collection will be seen under artificial light from illuminated ceilings -- takes in the Cathedral, the City Hall, the church of St. Martin, the Parisian-gray roofs of Cologne, the Rhine and its four beautiful bridges. Breathtaking.
The museum has four floors. The basement gallery for special exhibitions preserves the ruins of two medieval vaulted cellars -- a great architectural detail, though it wastes some space. The ground floor is dominated by a big entrance hall whose strong gray atmosphere results from the color of the basalt lava. The spare space holds only two cubes for the ticket stands, a small restaurant and a cloakroom.
The back part of the building, which is separated by a staircase well that is flooded with daylight, is reserved for offices, restoration and storage. The building follows the street known as "In der Höhle," which happens to be the home of Cologne's most famous painter, the 15th-century artist Stefan Lochner.
Lochner's stunning painting, The Last Judgment, will be on display in the first floor together with his Madonna of the Rose Bower and Dürer´s Drummer and Piper. The galleries for medieval paintings are done with red fresco plaster. Paintings by Rubens, Rembrandt, van Dyck, Ruisdael, Paris Bordone, Tintoretto and Lorrain are to be shown on walls colored a beautiful "Veronese green."
Each floor has slightly varying floor plans, thanks to the different demands of different periods. Up in the third floor, the 19th century is celebrated on "marble gray" walls with paintings by Caspar David Friedrich, Joseph Anton Koch, Renoir, Pissarro, Manet, Monet, Cézanne, Gauguin, Redon and Munch. I can't wait to see this charming place filled with the powerful paintings and sculpture of this rich collection, which was founded by private patronage in 1824.
That private passion for collecting art is still very much alive in the Rhineland. That's why Art Cologne still boasts a stronger art market than can its younger sister, Art Forum Berlin. Cologne has more money, and many influential collectors in addition to the Ludwigs.
Some of the local holdings are currently on view in an interesting and amusing show called "True Miracles," curated by Siegfried Gohr, a former director of the Museum Ludwig. He assembled 450 works of art, ranging from antique times to the contemporary, at the Josef-Haubrich-Kunsthalle at the Neumarkt, just a ten-minute walk from the new Wallraf-Richartz-Museum.
Gohr has a fresh eye and can be counted on for quality works and surprising combinations. Among the stand-outs is a suite of wonderful Fautrier paintings, including four figure studies, a landscape and head abstractions. Gohr juxtaposes works by German abstract painter Ernst Wilhem Nay with those of Roy Lichtenstein, and Asger Jorn´s wild paintings with those of Markus Lüpertz and Max Beckmann.
He creates a wonderful room with work by Milton Avery, Cy Twombly, Robert Motherwell and Brice Marden. Another one combines Picabia, William Copley and Forrest Bess. The charming show also features books and manuscripts, letters and first editions by Marcel Proust from the collection of Dr. Rainer Speck.
And a brilliant idea was to invite Candida Höfer to take photographs of the homes of 15 collectors, where you can see the art though not the collectors themselves. If you know the Cologne art scene (or read the labels carefully), you can guess some of the people behind these places. The show is on view through Feb. 11, 2001.
At the Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Jeane von Oppenheim, a New Yorker who has lived and worked in Cologne for several years, presents her impressive collection of photography, which she donated to the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach. The show of 430 photographs, a history of the development of the medium through the 20th century, was organized by curator Susanne Anna together with von Oppenheim herself.
They group the material, which includes everyone from Walker Evans and Berenice Abbott to Boris Becker and Candida Höfer, in familiar categories: portrait, landscape, architecture, design, still life, fashion and film. Oppenheim says that she never planned to be a collector, but since she worked at the Ludwig Museum during the '70s, she met many photographers and was able to buy their work simply because she liked it.
The current show demonstrates that she had both a good eye and an intuition for the right things. The exhibition is on view through Jan. 28, 2001, before embarking on a national tour with stops at the Norton Museum, Feb. 24-Apr. 29, and the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, beginning in May.
Close to the Museum für Angewandte Kunst, at the Drususgasse 5, only five minutes away from the Cathedral, Karsten Greve, who always catches the eye at the Art Cologne with his stands, opened a new space for his gallery. It is designed by French architect Yannis Tsiomis.
And here he catches the eye, too, with a beautiful show of the artists of the gallery: Dan Flavin, Louise Bourgeois, Josef Albers, Cy Twombly, Leiko Ikemura, Lucio Fontana, Gotthard Graubner, Paco Knöller, Wols, Joseph Cornell. The elegant, multilevel space -- 400 square meters in total -- is nearly completely white, ceiling, walls and floor, and has long windows on several sides, where Greve shows work by Dan Flavin (very effective along the Nord-Südfahrt, a city highway) and small sculptural works by Karl Prantl. A very pleasant exclusive place with the atmosphere of a little museum. But it would have been even more fitting, if Greve had opened the new room with a strong solo show of one of his artists.
It is really a pleasure to walk through the museums and galleries of Cologne at the moment. There is so much energy, so much to see, so much movement. At the Kunstverein is an exciting installation by the painter Michel Majerus, who has filled the exhibition hall with a half-pipe ramp for inline skaters. Visitors can take off their shoes and walk along the ramp to read the artist's painted slogans -- "fuck the intention of the artist," and "the symbols I manipulate make no reference to my situation."
What he reflects upon, not without humor, is the nature of painting at the beginning of the 21st century. He does not pretend to know the answer. What happens at the Kunstverein is always interesting, especially since its director, Udo Kittelman, is curator for the German pavillon at the next Venice Biennale. He has decided, by the way, to present young German installation artist Gregor Schneider there.
A real discovery one can see at Gallery Joachim Blüher. The gallerist presents wonderful gouaches by the Algerian-born French painter, photographer and object artist Jean-Michel Alberola, who may be well known in France but is new to Germany. The exquisite suite of 20 works on paper is very complex and fun to look at at the same time. His work on paper would make a nice way to start a new collection (through Dec. 16).
BARBARA WEIDLE is an art historian and journalist who lives in Bonn and Berlin.