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Back to Reviews 96


















The DOM













 

 Mark Dion
A Tale of Two Seas
1996














Mark Dion
A Tale of Two Seas
1996 (Detail)














Stefan Altenburger
Installation 
(Sand), 1993 














Stefan Altenburger
Installation
(Fototafel, Lampe,
Farbe), 1993 














Stefan Altenburger
Installation
(Kunststoff-
Netz, Bau gerüst)
1993 














Stefan Altenburger
Plastik
(PET-Guss)
1993 














Stefan Altenburger
Plastik
(Kartonschachtel,
PVC-Blache)
1993 














Stefan Altenburger
Installation
(Zeitungen)
1993 














Christopher Wool
Installation view














Christopher Wool
Installation view














 Sherrie Levine
Cathedrals and Hobby 
Horses














Markus Lüpertz
Untitled
(Donald Duck Series)
1963














 Markus Lüpertz
Selfportrait
1983














Markus Lüpertz
Männer ohne Frauen -
Parsifal (Men
without women 
- Parcifal), 1994














Markus Lüpertz
Krieg
(War), 1992
report from 
cologne   


by Nina Borgmann




After the longest winter of my life I went to visit my home town of Cologne. I hadn't seen my family and my old friends for two years so it was an emotionally charged journey. Like most "Kölner," I have a very strong connection to the town. For us there is nothing like seeing the "Dom" again after a long absence. The cathedral sits on the edge of the river Rhine, blackened and scarred by the infamous smog of the "Cologne valley," but with the confidence of something made for eternity. I was full of plans and good will to make the most of my two-week stay. I hoped to see all of my friends, review the Cologne art scene, and take care of a lot of boring business like getting a new passport. My plans turned out to be much too ambitious, as my beloved, refreshingly crazy family took up most of my time. I especially enjoyed seeing my absolutely lovely godchild Hannah and all the dogs that are part of our family. After ten exhilarating and exhausting days, I decided to relax and go and see a few galleries and people I know, abandoning my original plan to produce an objective, broad report on the Cologne scene. To my surprise, every gallery I wanted to see had moved to a new location, and it took me a while to get oriented. With my mind wandering ahead I often turned at familiar corners only to have to find my way back through hordes of flaneurs and shoppers. In Cologne one walks, one does not run. Finally I arrived at the newest cluster of galleries, which can be found above the UFA Palast, a movie theater specializing in Hollywood blockbusters, set on a commercial strip complete with Pizza Hut and American-style sports bars. Despite the populist environment, the gallery spaces in this `70s office building are appropriate for the art of the `90s. (Although somewhat ironically the stairway exudes the flavor of dreadful visits to the dentist). The first dealer to move to this building, in 1995, was Christian Nagel. He favors artists who work in what has come to be called the "institutional critique": Mark Dion, Andrea Fraser, Christian Philip Müller and German spiritualist and painter Michael Krebber, among others. Nagel formerly headed the most rigidly "group- dynamic" gallery, working with a fixed stable of artists; he now declares the stable gallery to be dead and has decided to become a "project" agent. The office spaces above the UFA Palast promise to be an appropriate setting. Currently on view is, "A Tale of Two Seas", a collaboration between Dion and Stefan Dillemuth, formerly known as the chief executive of the great Friesenwall 120, a defunct alternative space. The two collected a variety of flotsam on the beaches of the Northsea and Eastsea, catalogued the material and then presented it on back-to-back shelves in the gallery with the detritus from the Eastsea on one side and the Northsea on the other. The scientific exactness of the presentation of the pathetic beachcombings --old rusty metal parts, plastic bottle caps, little fish in jars with alcohol, legs of crabs --created a strange feeling of sadness and loss. The beautifully labeled, old-fashioned jars reminded me of childhood visits to the Natural History Museum as well as afternoons on the beach happily collecting seashells, stones or anything the sea had thrown up. Seeing an account of what really swims in the oceans these days casts a shadow over that lost innocence as well as the romantic science of Natural History. On the same floor with Nagel, Sabine Schmidt has opened one of the few Cologne galleries devoted to photography. She also organized a big exhibition in Berlin that presented historical documentary photographs by August Sander and Chargesheimer along with young contemporary artists such as Andreas Gursky, Axel Hütte and Ute Behrend. A few flights below, Louis Campagna inaugurated a 240-square-meter gallery in March, very loft-like, lit with daylight from both sides, and with an elegant back room. He lives in the back, a set-up that is typical of New Cologne, where everyone is trying to save money. He even sublet some of his space to his girlfriend, who is an independent art consultant. A self-made man, L.C. opened his first gallery at the age of 22 in Frankfurt and moved to Cologne when the `80s heyday was coming to an end. His opening show at the new gallery building featured a group of young German painters, mostly abstract. Also in the building is Markus Schneider, proprietor of Lukas and Hoffman Gallery, who is as concerned with his newly renovated space as he is with his soon-to- be-born daughter. Since his ex-partner, Nikolaus Schaffhausen, left the gallery to become Germany's youngest player in the curator's circus (at Künstlerhaus Stuttgart), Schneider changed not only the frames of his glasses but also his gallery program. For the opening show in March, Swiss artist Stefan Altenburger desperately tried making sculptures, but all that was left was a video of his fruitless encounter with material forces. This tape was accompanied by a depressing Techno Beat and projected onto the wall, with the debris piled up around the space. It transmits quite believably the frustration and seeming impossibility of producing meaningful art these days. In the next room were photographs from two series called "Plastic Art" and "Installations." "Plastic Art" consists of images of discarded objects Altenburger has found on the street. "Installations" are photographs of a found situation, such as a pile of newspapers, netting around a tree, a little grass growing at a building, that Altenburger presents with a caption as his sculpture. Some of his photographs are amazingly beautiful, although on the whole the idea is rather unsatisfying. Which is maybe intended. I've been waiting for an artist to notice all the accidental art that is laying around in the city, that always seems so seductive. Once again the old question comes up: what makes an art piece? I am not so convinced that Altenburger's photographs cut it. As a whole I thought that all four of the galleries had exceptional spaces and that the atmosphere was relaxed and hopeful. In a good mood, I walked the five minutes to the new gallery of Gisela Capitain, a veteran from the `80s, who also decided to relocate to Aachnerstrasse, across the street from an Off-track betting office. For her inaugural exhibition she selected New York survivor Christopher Wool. His East Village esthetics contrasted nicely with the delicate beauty of the space. The show was sparsely hung, so you were left with enough space to muse over the printed, brushed and sprayed paintings. Capitain's new lobby also offers a one of the best walls for paintings of all the new Cologne galleries. She plans to show Steven Prina, Larry Clark and Charline von Heyl, and is also on the look-out for younger artists. The "Büro Kippenberger" of our dearest Martin (who by the way just got married on March 4th, Congratulations!) has also found a home in her space. We had a glass of champagne and thus even more elated I went on to Rafael Jablonka's gallery. He is another established dealer who resisted the somewhat mindless trend to rush to Berlin, instead moving his operations around the corner to Lindenstrasse. With his nearly windowless space, Jablonka seemed to have made a most disappointing change. His group presentation of German and American artists such as Mike Kelly, Julian Schnabel, Hubert Kiecol and Imi Knoebel was rather expressionless and vague. His upcoming show will be work by appropriationist Sherrie Levine. A few days later, I visited my idea of the model space for New Cologne, the Daniel Bucholz Gallery. He inherited his father's antique bookstore, which is a book-lover's dream, and instead of closing it he decided to open a space behind it for contemporary art. The coexistence of both these spaces, especially with the backyard where one can sit and hang out, makes for a very pleasant afternoon. He was showing new work by Jutta Koether, which I missed because the exhibition gallery was under renovation when I was there. Then Easter broke out. In Germany it does so more violently than in New York. Everything was closed, and everybody went on vacation. So on Easter Sunday I went on a father-daughter trip to Düsseldorf to see a retrospective of the most German of all German painters, Markus Lüpertz, at the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein Westfalen. Happily, my father and I happily agreed on everything, above all on our surprise at Lupertz's success. The show included all the Lüpertz paintings you never wanted to see--earthy expressionism goes Dubuffet, after zooming in on Picasso, along with a few artistic thefts from contemporaries like Baselitz and Penck. What began as a cheerful spoof of Donald Duck in 1963 ends in the epitome of heroic German legends, Parsifal. Back in Cologne, we regained our breath and visited the Cologne Kunstverein and saw an installation by a promising young German artists, Tobias Rehberger. On his way to Africa he drew from memory some sketches of modernist chairs by Rietveld, Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. He left these drawings with a group of African craftsmen who were asked to fabricate the furniture in their traditional manner (preserving the mistakes and imperfections of his drawings). Spread around the gallery space, the resulting chairs were a conceptual burlesque with a nod to Martin Kippenberger and a seasoning from Los Angeles-based artist Jorge Pardo. Still, Rehberger's exhibition seemed emblematic of the state of the arts in Cologne. His work has promising ideas, but its realization didn't seem to fulfill its own potential. Despite my positive impression of the Cologne art scene, it has not yet regained the strength and vitality that made the city an art capital in the `70s and `80s. Also missing is a new generation of art collectors, who could easily revive the Cologne scene. Personally I enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere immensely and was reminded of the time when looking at art wasn't linked to stress and politics. It is a luxury to see a museum show without 15 elbows poking your ribs, although it also means the museum is making less money. I don't understand all the hype about Berlin as the new art center. Anyway, who would want to leave a town like Cologne where every third store is either a delicious bakery or a friendly bar?