Art Cologne 2008: Not a world class art fair – But better than its reputation!

Art Cologne 2008: Not a world class art fair – But better than its reputation!
I went to Art Cologne 2008 with great doubts: Many of the big name galleries were missing (Lisson, White Cube, Gagosian, ...). The artistic director of the show Gérard Goodrow had to leave 3 months ago. So, what should I expect?   150 Galleries on 3000 m² (~ 32.200 sq ft.) showing modern and contemporary art

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. So some 40 galleries less but about 20% more space. At least 1/3 of the galleries were galleries from Germany, which made the whole show somewhat local. I think the general quality of the art was o.k. – but somewhat boring from time to time. The Opening was crowded as ever. But there were less international collectors (especially few US). The reasons therefore might be:  
  • Only a few big name galleries
  • Bad PR ahead of the show
  • Unfavourable US $ / € exchange rate
  • Upcomeing economic crisis
  On the next day, the visitors were not as many as at the last Frieze - but it was ok. I actually found it easier to find art that is more subtile and silent, which is easily overlooked in more hysteric fairs.   I discovered for me the Cech artist Jirí Kovanda (a Documenta 12 artist) with a small set of black and white photos of his “Necklace” performance. He is forming rows of peas across the sidewalk while people are walking by and destroying his form. And then he tries again. The gallery Krobath Wimmer is asking for € 7.000 / $ 10.850 in an edition of 5. I also liked the kinematic object there by Thomas Baumann called “Wallsilver”. It reacted upon surrounding movements and is sort of minimal spectacular (€ 18.000 / $ 28.000 for 1 / 3).

The Cologne based gallery by Gisela Capitain showed an untitled U-shaped object of polished stainless steel by Wade Guyton. It was already sold for € 25.800 / $ 40.000 + tax.

© UGL: Wade Guyton: Without title; Courtesy by Gisela Capitain Gallery

The Korean Park Ryu Sook Gallery offered some nice little works by the Korean artist Lee-Nam Lee: These were 19” flatsceens hidden in frames. They then showed for instants an Asian watercolour work. You cold see an idyllic landscape. And suddenly the butterflies started to move and flew from one flatscreen to the other. I am not sure, if this work will keep my attention for eternity, but I liked it in a way. The edition of 5 was offered for reasonable € 8.400 / US $ 13.020.

© UGL: Lee-Nam Lee, courtesy by Park Ryu Sook Gallery, Korea

Another Korean Gallery, The Columns, showed interesting work by Kwang Young Chun as “Aggregation 07-OC074”. These are large organic landscapes that are made out of sugar-cube-size packages of Korean mulberry paper on canvas. They are offered for € 70.000 / US $ 108.500.

© Kwang Young Chun: Aggregation 07-OC074

I also liked the work of the South-Korean artist Yong-Deok Lee: The large wall-sculptures that one mixes up with flat paintings at first sight. But then, coming closer, the perspective changes, as the figures are carved out of the material and then painted. Offered by PYO Gallery, Soul / Bejing / L.A. for remarkable € 80.000 / $ 120.000. But who really understands the making of prices in fast moving emerging markets anyway?

©UGL. Yong-Deok Lee courtesy PYO Gallery

It seems to me, we will see a lot more interesting art from South-Korea in the future.


Most galleries from the greater region (Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, …) took the fair as an occasion to meet the collectors of their region. And there are traditionally many of them.


There were also a number of Spanish Galleries. I have the impression that many of them were here, as a counter trade of the fair after also showing at Art Cologne in Palma de Mallorca 2007. Most of them were not bad, but this amount of well-established Tàpies, Pijuan and Chillida becomes a little “beige”. An exception was the Ferran Cano Gallery of Palma de Mallorca showing fragile small perforated paper works by the Spanish artist Amparo Sard, which I liked a lot.

© Amparo Sard: I have to; courtesy by Ferran Cano Gallery

The modern classic hall was worth to see. If you want to buy a work by Poliakoff, Jawlensky or Kirchner Art Cologne is still a place to do so. Impressive was the excellent Kirchner at the Swiss Henze & Ketterer Gallery offered for € 5.500.000 / US $ 8.500.000.


A large proportion of the contemporary part on the first floor was most of the time somewhat boring, as there were a number of Galleries showing a very similar program of standard bestsellers by Gerhard Richter, Imi Knoebel or Günther Förg. Don’t get me wrong: I like them, but too many collector homes   look quite alike stuffed by the same brand names: “Gosh, our neighbours have got a Förg now too!”

© UGL.

More interesting in general was the hall on the lower level. Especially the open space area: The open architecture there focused more on the art than the galleries. But also here: Nearly 30 of 50 galleries and institutions were from Cologne and Berlin. Which made it somewhat local.


The Deutsche Bank Private Wealth Dept. had an interesting series of discussions going on in their booth. I heared the sympathetic author/art dealer Wolfram Völcker talking about his book “What is good art?”. They also showed some work by Anish Kapoor form their collection. I liked the purple object very much – even though it looked in there very fashionable.


In contrary to the Armory Show, there are a lot of debates and side events taking place at the fair. In general I liked it, because it makes the art easier accessable for newcomers.


We will see what the new director, Mr. Daniel Hug, intends to do with Art Cologne 2009. He is exhibiting in the open space area with his own L.A. gallery. And he also brings some experiences from the L.A. art show. A difficult job.


I think Art Cologne 2009 will have to make a decision either to be an art fair in the Premier Art Scene league like Basel, NY, London and Miami or to focus on the art market of the region.


by U. G. L.


Foster, 15-04-09 22:54
U.G. you are right:

The prices of art from the emerging markets are way out of line!

Especially art from China.

I think we will not see most of this art in 10 years to come!

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