The "eau de Cologne" this month is globalism, what with the 1999 Cologne art fair, Nov. 7-14, hosting over 100 galleries from 18 countries outside Germany (the other 160 or so galleries at Art Cologne are German). German museums are getting into the act, too, with something called "Global Art Rheinland 2000." The series kicks off at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, with "Art Worlds in Dialogue -- from Gauguin to Global Contemporary Art," on view Nov. 5, 1999-Mar. 3, 2000. Exhibitions are also slated for museums in other major cities along the Rhine -- Bonn, Düsseldorf and Duisburg.
When worlds collide
Art lovers can be forgiven for casting a jaundiced eye on the concoctions of globe-trotting contemporary curators, the sort of thing that found visitors to the Venice Biennale and Site Santa Fe suffering from a new ailment dubbed "festivalitis." The Museum Ludwig's "Art Worlds in Dialogue" may escape this complaint, however, in part because of its substantial historical component. The show is especially strong in works by early modernist visitors to the South Seas, from Paul Gauguin to Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Emil Nolde, Max Peckstein and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff.
In all, the show features works by over 120 artists, selected by a team headed by former Museum Ludwig director Marc Scheps. Especially good were contemporary works that address issues of "primitivism" in art and culture. David Hammons' assemblage combining an African mask, barb wire and plastic jewels, Yinka Shonibare's Victorian gowns fashioned of African fabrics, and Fred Wilson's bug collection labeled with African country names were all to the point. New to me were large rephotographed collages from 1996 by Candice Breitz, a 20-something who was born in Johannesburg and lives in New York. Her eye-catching images meld tribal figures from Africa with pornographic ones from the West into an obviously disrupted single (Western) point of view.
The show also goes north-south in the New World, including works by Latin American masters ranging from David Alfaro Siqueros to Ana Mendieta and Gabriel Orozco. Asia is similarly well represented, most dramatically by Huang Yong Ping, whose Le Point (1995) is a 35-foot-long arch-shaped cage containing live locusts, scorpions, snakes and turtles.
The contradictions of identity politics are well demonstrated by Peter Robinson, a New Zealander with Maori ancestry who now lives in Cologne. His The Great Plane Race is a 10-foot-long stuffed toy airplane checked in red, white and black (New Zealand's national colors), that hangs upside down over the central staircase. Of course it looks right-side up if viewed from halfway around the world.
The Buddha speaks
Visitors to Art Cologne had to rush to catch a glimpse of "The Light of the Great Buddha," since it was only on view at the city's Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst till Nov. 10. The 110 national treasures from the 8th-century temple compound at Nara in Japan were elegantly spaced throughout the museum's jute-carpeted galleries, positioned on slatted, blonde oak platforms rather than typical museum plinths and bases.
There's a portrait of the aged priest Chogen, who rebuilt the temple in the 12th century, and half a dozen Buddhas, whose serenity and welcome seems palpable. But the best are the pair of ferociously grimacing Kings of Hell, who can guard the entrance to my dwelling any day. The items on view are not museum pieces in the truest sense of the word, but rather objects of worship that to this day are being used in religious rituals in Japan.
At the galleries
Cologne galleries are spread all over the city's sprawling center, making a comprehensive one-day tour just as difficult (if not impossible) as it would be in New York City. It goes without saying that the new globalism is everywhere in evidence. At Galerie Berndt is a collaboration with Galerie Simonis of Düsseldorf called "Afrikanische Kunst -- Europäische Moderne," Nov. 5-Dec. 31, that matches -- seamlessly -- modernist works by artists like Georg Baselitz and Guenther Uecker with Bemke figures and Ethiopian gameboards.
Other shows speak more of global mobility than cultural difference. At Galerie Karsten Greve are paintings by Leiko Ikemura, a Japanese artist (b. 1951) who teaches in Berlin and has a studio in Cologne. Her works all show a figure in a dark Abstract Expressionist space, posed in postures of a certain (Islamic?) religiosity -- prostration, supplication, ascension -- and carrying titles like Flying in Violet and Lying in Yellow. They cost DM 25,000. At Greve's second space are black-and-white works by "new image" painter Löic Le Groumellec.
It was with some irony that a New Yorker could view the show at Galerie Rolf Ricke titled "Morgenrot in Los Angeles," Nov. 5-Dec. 23. The "red dawn," I suppose, includes six California artists, best known of whom is perhaps Steven Hull, who shows at Rosamund Felsen. Hull had stacked several canvases covered with bright painterly plaid abstractions against one long wall. His works are quite pretty, though the addition of plastic flowers shows a certain lack of commitment to notions of beauty, as if to identify it with kitsch rather than something transcendent.
Hull attended the opening in person, as did another young L.A. painter, Amy Green, who specializes in allover abstractions made from Cheerios, Fruit Loops other round cereal pieces. Her works are affecting, perhaps because they seem childish. Brandon Lattu is an L.A. artist who actually seems to have a political practice, at least if a straightforward photograph of a skyscraper bearing the deluded logo of People's Bank can be considered critical. Other artists now familiar to Cologne art lovers are Ingrid Calame, Heidi Kidon and Melissa Thorne.
More important than any of this, though, were two shows of artists worth crossing an ocean to see -- Jörg Immendorff and Michael Buthe. Immendorff's new paintings on view at Galerie Michael Werner, Nov. 5-Dec. 18, are as allegorical, political and philosophical as ever -- and may even show a new lyricism. One motif is a kind of hazy caterpillar shape, which variously reappears as an arm pulled down by a weight and a winged creature taking flight. Among the motifs are images of gobs of amber, chained and sleeping muses, and the artist himself, peering into a picture like Caspar David Friedrich into a landscape. The works range in price from DM 14,000 to DM 150,000. The illustrated catalogue carries an illuminating essay by TV talk show commentator Bazon Brock. "Call in the image industry for reconditioning of events to allow for their pornographic self-enjoyment," he writes. Indeed!
As for the late Michael Buthe, who died in 1994 at age 50 -- the result of a life of dissipation, I'm afraid -- a group of his works from the '80s and '90s are on view at Galerie Heinz Hoffmann, priced between DM 11,300 and DM 82,000. Buthe was the Hippie King of the Düsseldorf scene that launched German Pop art in the 1970s. His dot-covered abstractions still seem fresh, rich with overlapping images, splatters of paint, collages of photos, tin foil, starfish and shells, silver and gold paint, asterisk stars and pine cones. Hyper-decorative and hallucinatory, Buthe's paintings anticipate the work of Chris Ofili (though without the Afros).
Finally, at Galerie Christian Nagel's new space -- it opened Nov. 5 -- is a show of the curious works of Kai Althoff, a Cologne artist who alternately makes wall pieces -- large panels covered with photos or paintings -- and sculptures of carpet that rise up from the floor like golems. Nagel explained that one wall of paintings demonstrated the "not very soft behavior of the Or brothers, who become part of a sect praying to the devil and live in concrete bunkers covered with cheap carpet, getting sicker and uglier without ever dying." In comparison, Nagel said, were the black-and-white photographs of a happy, normal family, "angels of redemption." Althoff shows at Anton Kern in N.Y., Robert Prine in London and Acme in Los Angeles, and his works -- priced between DM 7,000 and DM 45,000 -- are much in demand.
Odds and ends at Art Cologne
Hot item for bargain hunters is the Sarah Lucas multiple made of two tall-boy beer cans jammed together into a "cock and balls" at Sadie Coles HQ. They're DM 999. … The booth of New York dealer Susan Sheehan, filled with works by Andy Warhol, wins the award for most museum-like installation. Sheehan -- who has several paintings as well as prints and drawings -- designed a large, simple, rectangular space that barely resembles an art-fair "booth."
Photos by Katharina Bosse at the booth of Cologne photo dealer Heidi Reckerman show various whorehouse fetish rooms -- a leather armchair with lava lamps, a schoolroom with blackboard, a carrousel horse, and spookiest of all, an operating theater. The first four examples from the edition of six are DM 3,800.
Connoisseurs of anti-art gestures took note of L.A. artist Rachel Lachowicz's burnt wood version of a Marcel Breuer chair, on view at the booth of Galerie Kapinos from Berlin (price: DM 12,000). She made it in 1997, part of the same series that gave us a burnt replica of a Jeff Koons sculpture that Michael Kapinos said was on view in West Coast collector Peter Norton's entrance hall…. Watch for the exhibition of graceful geometric wall abstractions of U.S. artist John Duff at Ingrid Raab in Berlin, scheduled to open on Nov. 20.