This spring, Germany is alive with art fairs.
Frankfurt art impresario Michael Neff’s wackier Fine Art Fair Frankfurt, otherwise known by the trademark "Quality Street," Apr. 13-15, 2007, spotlighted sculptures installed in a darkened hall by some 50 galleries.
The city of Düsseldorf, celebrated since the 1970s as a center of contemporary art, has just launched its own art fair. Called DC, or Düsseldorf Contemporary, Apr. 19-21, 2007, the show features an international line-up of 85 galleries, and emphasizes art from 1980-2007. New York participants include Spencer Brownstone, Thomas Erben, Nicole Klagsbrun, The Project, Team and Leslie Tonkonow.
Nearby is Art Brussels, Apr. 20-23, 2007, with 150 galleries in "the capital of Europe," ranging from the Approach (London) and Bernier / Eliades (Athens) to Vacio 9 (Madrid) and Xin Dong Cheng (Beijing).
And then there is the granddaddy of them all, Art Cologne, Apr. 18-22, 2007, presenting approximately 160 modern and contemporary galleries in the city’s modern convention center. Fair director Gérard Goodrow, an American, was hired in 2004, and has made subtle changes to streamline and modernize Art Cologne’s presentation.
This time around, Art Cologne also has its own satellite art fairs. Liste Köln, Apr. 18-22, 2007 -- no relation to the Liste fair in Basel in June -- presents almost 80 galleries in a spirited if completely disorienting warren-like installation at another building on the Cologne fairgrounds.
And a funkier operation, the Tease Art Fair, Apr. 19-22, 2007, has set up in the imposing but unrenovated RheinForum, a former government building just across the Rhine River near the Dom cathedral. Very much an artist-run event, the 50 participants include individual artists, freelance curators, cutting-edge galleries and alternative spaces.
Does Germany have too many art fairs? Only if it has too many galleries and too many artists. As the country has long boasted locally supported kunsthalles in every municipality, so now Germany seems to be leading the way towards establishing an art fair in every city.
Call it niche marketing. Though it might be nice to try varying the dates a bit.
Art Cologne is located on two floors of two adjacent halls in the city’s sprawling convention center, a rather large complex with 11 halls in all. The fair is surprisingly easy to find, thanks in no small part to a red carpet -- literally -- that visitors can follow from any of the four convention center entrances to the fair itself.
Parked outside on that carpet, as it happens, is a yellow taxicab from New York, converted into a kind of video multiplex by artist Steven Gagnon. Taxi tales are projected from inside onto the windows, in a work last seen at the Fountain art fair in Manhattan.
Once inside Art Cologne -- general admission is €20 -- the fair is airy and comfortable. Seating for tired art-lovers is plentiful, and no fair has more cafés and bars.
The roster of galleries is impressively international: Art & Public from Geneva, Chosun from Seoul, Delaive from Amsterdam, Hotel from London, Taka Ishii from Tokyo, Galleri K from Oslo, Leo Koenig from New York, Lahumière from Paris, Diana Lowenstein from Miami, Brigitte March from Stuttgart, Mixografía from Los Angeles, The Modern Institute from Glasgow, Nächst St. Stephan from Vienna, Christian Nagel from Cologne, Galerie Neu from Berlin, Program from Warsaw, Regina from Moscow, Ulrike Schmela from Düsseldorf, Sollertis from Toulouse, Galerie Thomas from Munich, Wetterling from Stockholm.
But more than anything else, Cologne offers an unbelievable smorgasbord of 20th-century modernism, especially German modernism. Galerie Ludorff from Düsseldorf is spotlighting a Max Liebermann 1903 painting of his flower garden in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee, while Salis & Vertes from Salzburg and St. Moritz is featuring a striking portrait from 1930 by Wassily Kandinsky, Madchen mit Blumen. Watercolors by Paul Klee and Lyonel Feininger are on offer, as are woodcuts and etchings by the German Expressionists.
Intensely colored landscapes and still lifes by Otto Mueller, Gabriele Münter, Emil Nolde, Max Pechstein, Christian Rohlfs and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff are easy to find, as are post-war abstractions by Ernst Wilhelm Nay (1902-1968). Surreal frottage landscapes by Max Ernst are in many booths, as are "meditations" and "abstract heads" by The fair has also turned over space to freelance curators for three independent exhibitions -- all rather good. A show devoted to art dealer Erhard Klein, an early supporter of the Düsseldorf scene, has great documentary material on the early antics of Beuys, Martin Kippenberger and Albert Oehlen. Another exhibition provides an extensive survey of contemporary portrait photography, and "Pollenflug Austria" ("Pollination Austria") features a selection of contemporary art from Austrian collections, organized by freelance curator Caroline Nathusius, who also is director of the Cologne co-op gallery Kjubh (pronounced phonetically as "Cube")..
A specific testament to Art Cologne’s cosmopolitan nature is the presence of Elahe Art Gallery from Tehran. Featuring works by several Iranian painters, the gallery was opened in 1999 by Elahe Javaheri, who has taken space at Art Cologne twice before. Among the paintings in the booth are several by Ali Nassir that show single figures in a domestic environment, images that burst with energetic color and brushwork, an indication of the international reach of the Neo-Expressionist esthetic. A large painting is €11,500.
One of the first stands by the entrance to Art Cologne is Edition Staeck from Heidelberg, with its trademark selection of budget-priced multiples by Joseph Beuys, Jonathan Meese, Rosemarie Trockel and others. Offset prints by art-market fave Sigmar Polke range in price from €870 to €1,100.
Another bargain-priced work, this one designed to appeal to a hometown crowd, can be found at the booth of Kunstmarkt.com, the German art website. The 40-something artist Cony Theis -- well known in Germany as a court illustrator -- has fashioned an altered readymade in the form of the city’s beloved Dom cathedral, with its twin spires. The wall-hung work, titled Kölner Kissen (1999-2005), looks like a pillow, but it’s cast in pigmented concrete. The price: €300.
A person could spend more, of course. At Galerie Terminus from Munich is Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Campaign (1984), a lively graffiti painting priced at $1.9 million (a bargain in comparison to the Basquiat at a forthcoming New York auction, which is estimated at $6 million-$8 million). The Terminus booth is filled with major works by John Chamberlain, Robert Rauschenberg and other contemporary blue chips.
One small gallery at the Terminus stand features several new paintings by A.R. Penck, famous since the 1980s for his ideogrammatic imagery. One rather unusual work -- more representational, perhaps, though still with a primitive strength -- is a 2002 painting of a red tiger in the high grass, priced at €58,800.
At the booth of Galería Hilario Galguera from Mexico City is a striking spin painting by Damien Hirst, done with gold, black and red enamel and measuring about seven feet in diameter. Beautiful the Death of God the Birth of the New Universe Painting (2005), as it is called, is yours for $450,000.
Galguera and Art Cologne are also sponsoring the ancillary exhibition at Cologne’s Herz-Jesu-Kirche (Church of the Sacred Heart) of Hirst’s "The Five Aspects of God," a suite of paintings of butterflies, razor blades and the like.
Among the works in the booth of Galerie Gisela Capitain, one of Cologne’s most celebrated dealers, is a painting of a black "x" by the New York artist Wade Guyton, whose works combine graphic punch with a sense of esoteric knowledge. A show of the artist’s works is currently on view at the gallery in town, with all of the paintings sold at prices between $11,000 and $22,000.
As is the practice with most art fairs these days, Art Cologne has mixed things up by introducing special sections and categories of booths.
Especially successful is the "Open Space" section, which is essentially an expansive lounge with large-scale artworks installed. One popular stop in the area is a "tiki bar," set against a freestanding wall covered with paisley wallpaper and with confetti piled on the floor, offering cocktails at no charge, courtesy of Cologne’s nascent European Kunsthalle, a museum-without-walls that bills itself as a "platform for discourse."
Scattered throughout the fair are 22 booths dubbed "New Talent," featuring mini-solo-shows designed to introduce younger artists to the market. Galleri Bo Bjerggaard from Copenhagen, for instance, is featuring paintings by Ivan Anderson (b. 1968), a recent grad of the Royal Danish Academy who is scheduled to have his first solo show at the gallery next year.
Anderson’s paintings, in which abstract painterly elements intrude upon modern cityscapes in a way made familiar by the Leipzig School, are priced at $5,000-$7,000. They’re in good company; Bjerggaard also shows Georg Immendorff and Per Kirkeby.
Another shot of youthful energy is supplied by the concentration of 18 smaller booths dubbed "New Contemporaries" and featuring younger, newer galleries, like Aschenbach & Hofland (Amsterdam), Laura Mars (Berlin) and Vartai (Vilnius).
Among the successful debuts in this area was the Geneva-based artist Hadrien Dussoix (b. 1978) at Projektraum Viktor Bucher from Vienna, whose drip-style paintings of licentious concrete poems (like "long legs mini skirt") are mostly sold at €1,400-€1,600. Success also greeted the exhibition of dense and comic narrative watercolors by New York artist David Scher at the booth of New York dealer Leo Koenig -- all nine sold, at $7,500 a piece. "They’re perfect for the German market," said gallery director Kai Heinze.
Still another special category -- though a small one, numbering only five booths -- is "Hidden Treasures," presenting works by estimable artists who are nevertheless out of the limelight. One such is the American artist Gary Kuehn (b. 1939), whose geometric, black-and-white abstractions from the 1970s (plus some of more recent vintage), are being presented by Galerie Haas from Zürich.
Each of Kuehn’s paintings features two or three biomorphic black shapes that press at the boundaries of the canvas. In fact, the paint was poured into a sort of pool and kept in place by a tiny wall built out from the canvas surface perhaps one-eighth of an inch. Six paintings are on view, priced at $18,000-$28,000, with three marked "sold" by the second day of the fair.
The fair has also turned over space to freelance curators for three independent exhibitions -- all rather good. A show devoted to art dealer Erhard Klein, an early supporter of the Düsseldorf scene, has great documentary material on the early antics of Beuys, Martin Kippenberger and Albert Oehlen. Another exhibition provides an extensive survey of contemporary portrait photography, and "Pollenflug Austria" ("Pollination Austria") features a selection of contemporary art from Austrian collections, organized by freelance curator Caroline Nathusius, who also is director of the Cologne co-op gallery Kjubh (pronounced phonetically as "Cube").
Art Cologne closes at 8 pm, giving the avid art reporter a short hour at the nearby Liste Köln, which runs till 9 pm. This is young art in capital letters -- a mixed bag, to be sure. One standout is the booth of Galerie Deschler from Berlin, featuring new works by many of our old friends from the 1980s, artists like Salome and Rainer Fettig.
A large painting from 2002 by Salome, showing three swimmers cutting through the surface of a lily pond -- which is painted in a delectable silver with green lily pads and pink nudes -- is €35,000. A small Fettig bronze from 2005, showing the artist’s alter-ego "Des" slumped over, the very picture of despair, is titled Gravity and priced at €25,000 in an edition of nine.
Especially notable at Deschler is an emblematic painting of a militant artist with her giant paintbrush by Elvira Bach, who lives in Berlin with her husband and two kids. Titled Wächterin (2006), the picture can be yours for €42,000, if it’s not sold already.
Another winner is a suite of small paintings by Maren Floesser at Galerie Barbara von Stechow from Frankfurt. Reading "Kiss me now" (in part), the installation adds some youthful élan to a format pioneered by the word paintings of Alighiero Boetti. The great thing is that Floesser’s sentiments are sold by the letter, which are priced at €850 each.
No art fair is complete without an artist’s performance, and sure enough, Liste Köln featured an artist -- Yingmei Duan -- napping in a white bed made out of paper. Can’t say that it looked comfy, even with jet lag! The installation is sponsored by Galerie Delta 35 in Berlin. For more details, see www.yingmei-art.com
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.