Fair and Balanced


Left: Artist Phil Collins and record label owner Martin Hossbach. Right: NADA director Heather Hubbs, Art Cologne director Daniel Hug, and Maike Cruse, director of art berlin contemporary (abc). (Except where noted, all photos: Kito Nedo)

WHO’D HAVE GUESSED that the award ceremony for this year’s Wolfgang Hahn Prize would be the highlight of Art Cologne week? The press preview on the prior Wednesday morning for the related Andrea Fraser retrospective at the Museum Ludwig had been a routine affair. No journalist dared to ask a question, not even the customary one: “Whatever happened to institutional critique?” And yet we were all wondering about her plans for her award ceremony, a format constitutive to the Fraserian “oeuvre.” In the end, curator Barbara Engelbach gently pushed the artist to reveal some details, and Fraser explained that she’d invited the cultural theorist Helmut Draxler to hold an “anti-laudatio” to follow the official laudation by Kunsthaus Bregenz’s Yilmaz Dziewior. At last, we thought—conflict!

But there was plenty to keep us busy before the main event. On Wednesday night, French curator Fanny Gonella and I wended our way through Cologne’s endless pedestrian precincts from Stefan Müller’s show at the Kölnische Kunstverein and back to Phil Collins’s opening at Museum Ludwig. In the main exhibition space, Collins had installed two small caravans, viewing booths for a video featuring a call-in shopping channel that sells cameos in a Victorian-themed porn production for the bargain price of €9.99. “Basically the show is about three German obsessions,” Collins told me, counting fingers in the air: “Verhör, Porno, Tod.” I ran into record-label owner Martin Hossbach (who just had a surprising success with Rafael Horzon’s “Me, My Shelf and I” [feat. Peaches]) and together we visited Collins’s second installation, listening booths that played, among other things, a lovely Collins-commissioned song by Scritti Politti. Hossbach recently taught a course in Pet Shop Boys Studies at the Leipzig University of Music & Theatre, and he took me to his favorite Kölsch-Brauhaus to expound before we rejoined the crowds on the sidewalk outside the Kunstverein to drink, talk, and smoke into the night.

Left: Curator Kasper König with Museum Ludwig director Philipp Kaiser. Right: Dealer Michael Werner.

“There’s no first-hour-rush of collectors like at Art Basel,” dealer Marie-Blanche Carlier informed me the next morning as Art Cologne proper commenced. The pace is slower here, but dealers seemed to meet their goals, and in the afternoon hours a sort of joyful hum filled the halls. We enjoyed plenty of good art too, some of it via a tour by Julia Stoschek of her formidable video collection, including works by Clemens von Wedemeyer, Monica Bonvicini, and Klara Lidén. Of course as many people were at the fair for the gossip as for the art. Like the fact that Søren Grammel, who has been the director of Kölnischer Kunstverein for a little more than a year, is to leave his position for the Museum für Gegenwartskunst in Basel. Or that Ben Kaufmann, who closed his gallery in Berlin in late 2011, will follow Dorothea Jendricke as the new director of Neuer Aachener Kunstverein (NAK). Kaufmann had told journalists he planned to leave the art world for good and start working as a soccer coach instead. To which we say: Welcome back!

More idle gossip: That night I sat next to Eigen + Art’s Judy Lybke at Restaurant Acht, located in Cologne's hip Belgian quarter, and we discussed Carsten Nicolai’s surprising rise to art-pop stardom. The artist, who also runs a label for experimental electronic music, is the current supporting act for Depeche Mode on their upcoming Eastern Europe tour. Lybke told me Nicolai had taken some time do decide whether or not to join on. DM fans’ intolerance for (if not downright hostility to) supporting acts is a known fact. But perhaps he has a little of the Fraser spirit in him: Who wants to be universally adored?

Left: Dealers Saskia Draxler and Christian Nagel. Right: Collector Christian Boros with critic Gregor Quack.

Before I repaired to my hotel, I met Dominikus Müller at the club Gewölbe, where Kompakt Label was celebrating its twentieth anniversary and also receiving, as Kompakt cofounder Wolfgang Voigt put it, the “knightly accolades from the art world.” Art Cologne director Daniel Hug had invited apologists of the straight 4/4 techno beat to build a sound installation in the entry area of the exhibition halls as well as a “pop ambient chill-out lounge.” While the lounge in the halls felt a bit like a walk-in diorama of the early 1990s, the Kompakt club night turned out to be very entertaining (contemporary, even!).

After Friday’s whirlwind tour of Cologne galleries (Carsten Fock’s paintings at Schmidt & Handrup deserve special mention), the crowds made their way Saturday to Fraser’s survey at the Museum Ludwig for the Wolfgang Hahn award ceremony. During the impressive one-hour event, Dziewior praised the jury for the decision to award Fraser 100,000 euros, which included the acquisition of several works for the Ludwig collection. Draxler, of course, went for the jugular: “How only could you ever accept that prize?” he asked. “Precisely as impostors the audience is recognizing us, bridging the gap between individual ambition and institutional claim with honor, diffusing market values with critical positions completely. There is no escape from that; it seems to be the fate of success, or, in Pierre Bourdieu’s words: Success is ultimate failure.” In her acceptance speech, Fraser didn’t seem affected: “Helmut, you were much too kind.” Afterward, 250 chosen were led to a seated dinner at Alter Wartesaal.

I left Cologne Sunday morning tired, happy, intoxicated. But before departing the Rhineland altogether, I dropped in on Wolfgang Tillmans’s excellent show at K21 in Düsseldorf as well as Gunter Reski’s exhibition at the Kunstverein. The most beautiful of Reski’s large-yet-light watercolors shows a hand piercing the screen of a smartphone, and during my train ride back to Berlin my thoughts kept returning to that image, Die Verbesserung des Fingers—the improvement of the finger. Since the heyday of the 1980s and early ’90s, the Rhineland may have lost its status as uncontested center of the European art world. But the mutual efforts of the fair and regional institutions, galleries, and private collections is paying off: The myth is still alive, if reinvented and condensed.

Kito Nedo

Left: Critic Helmut Draxler. Right: Deputy mayor of Cologne Angela Spizig, artist Andrea Fraser, and Enno Scholma, chairman of Gesellschaft für Moderne Kunst. (Photo: Gesellschaft für Moderne Kunst am Museum Ludwig Köln)

Left: Artist and curator Christian Egger (Künstlerhaus Graz) with artist Alexander Wolff. Right: Dealer Guido W. Baudach.

Left: Dealer Johann König, artist Monica Bonvicini and art director Mike Meiré. Right: Kompakt's Wolfgang Voigt.

Left: Dealer Daniel Schmidt, artist Carsten Fock, and critic Sebastian Preuss. Right: Collector Julia Stoschek.

Left: Dealer Leo König and Margaret Liu Clinton König. Right: Dealers Hans Bülow and Daniel Wichelhaus (Société).

Left: Dealers Thilo Wermke and Alexander Schröder. Right: Dealer Kerstin Wahala, artist Kai Schiemenz, and dealer Gerd Harry Lybke.

Left: Critics Dominikus Müller and Astrid Mania. Right: Bundeskunsthalle intendant Rein Wolfs, dealer Daniel Buchholz, and Berlin Biennale curator Juan A. Gaitán.

Left: Curator Zdenek Felix. Right: Dealers Tina Wentrup, Sascha Welchering, and Jan Wentrup.

Left: Dealers Robert Meijer and Markus Lüttgen. Right: Dealers Gigiotto del Vecchio and Gió Marconi.

Left: S.M.A.K. curator Martin Germann and artist Cynthia Scholten. Right: Dealer Christian Vogel, artist Rebecca Wilton, and dealer Uwe-Karsten Günther.

Left: Critic Ludwig Seyfarth (middle) and collector Harald Falckenberg (right). Right: Dealer Kai Hoelzner and artist Bernd Trasberger.