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Art Dealer's Diary

FAIR FATIGUE AT ART COLOGNE 2012

by Kenny Schachter
 
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In 2008 I wrote an obituary for the Cologne Art Fair, and guess what? It’s still dead. Call it fair overload. Markets are driven by a degree of psychology: when stocks go down, the good, bad and ugly all get dragged down, too. It’s like when you play tennis with someone awful. Sometimes you find yourself mimicking your opponent and playing awfully as well.

Art is no different. When a fair is blanketed by a stink of malaise, it can be difficult not to get despondent, too. I thought viewing art would lift me out of the doldrums as it usually does, but in this instance it sank me to lower levels. Art Cologne 46, Apr. 18-22, 2012: doling out depression and hopelessness in equal measure. How many words are there for dull?

OK, maybe I am exaggerating. The fair did have some bright spots, though the emphasis here should be on “some.” I do like (certain) Germans and their art and fairs are good places to catch up with people and gossip (one of the primary reasons dealers and collectors frequent the things).

I saw some wonderful artworks, such as a moody, atmospheric, postage-stamp-sized Gerhard Richter painting at Springer + Winckler, Berlin, dating from 1995 and priced at about $500,000. At Galerie Michael Werner, and elsewhere, were Sigmar Polke porno drawings from the 1970s, priced at ca. €125,000. At Ben Brown Fine Arts, of London and Hong Kong, was a lovely Bridget Riley drawing, also from the ‘70s and priced at around £60,000.
I think I like everything from that decade, from its cars to its Conceptual Art. And I am a Franz West fan -- at Galerie Konzett from Vienna was a cool West table with the mess already built into it (€40,000).

A single stroke of genius was to suck up the NADA fair, absorbing it in its entirety into the body of the main fair. But did the New Art Dealers Alliance really contribute to the big picture? I’m afraid the answer is no, nada. Few or no Brits, Americans or French were in attendance. Don’t get me wrong, that was a good thing. The overriding problem was the shortage of good art. And the addition of international fair stalwarts David Zwirner and Thaddaeus Ropac do not a successful fair make.

The last straw was the restaurant in the fair, which offered about the worst dining experience I have ever had. With four rows of six tables, every time a server came along with a tray, he or she invariably went to the wrong table. Delivering the orders became a drawn-out process of elimination. To call it bad service would do a disservice to bad.

I thought we would have fewer fairs by now, but instead we appear to have more. Won’t people ever learn? The Berlin fair is already on the demised list, to which I say good riddance (ok, I may have been rejected when I applied to be in that one). And sooner or later, I am sorry to say, the same fate is in store for Art Cologne.

I had brought my 14-year-old son, Kai, along to Art Cologne to have someone to dine with. The upside: I never thought I could do anything to make returning to school look appealing to a teenage boy.

KENNY SCHACHTER is an art dealer and director of Rove London.