The Rhine’s Eye

Julian Elias Bronner at the 7th Düsseldorf-Cologne gallery weekend

Left: Artists Dietmar Lutz and André Niebur of hobbypop Museum with artists Yeşim Akdeniz and Christoph Westermeier. Right: Musician David Aird (aka Vindicatrix) with artists Moritz Smid and Morag Keil.

AMONG THOSE PROFESSIONALLY OBLIGED to look at and think about art, summer holidays engender two camps of tourists: those who travel to see it and those who travel to get away from it. In the wake of three weeks spent in Düsseldorf on an unofficial tour of the region’s museums, I can advise those of the latter weary-eyed and wanderlustful group that the Rhineland is not for you.

Great art is so highly concentrated here that it might as well spring the Rhine itself. The countryside situated around the mining valley of the Ruhrgebiet is littered with public institutions housing legendary collections assembled largely after World War II. Take, for example, the Caspar David Friedrich paintings at Museum Folkwang in Essen, or the endless masterpieces of late Gothic retables at the LWL Museum in Münster. A must-see for more contemporary enthusiasts: the breathtaking series of larger-than-life canvases made by Sigmar Polke for the 1986 Venice Biennale, at the Abteiberg Museum in Mönchengladbach (worth a visit for the Pritzker Prize–winning architecture by Hans Hollein alone).

What Germans lack in national pride they make up for with serious cultural heritage, and a week after Chancellor Merkel and Prince William met in town to commemorate the British invention of North-Rhine Westphalia, Düsseldorf Cologne gallery weekend was upon us. The three-day-long slide of openings started in 2009 as an experiment between two rival cultural capitals but in recent years has become one of the largest events unifying the region’s art scenes.

Left: Curator Kay von Keitz, artist Moritz Krauth, Museum Ludwig’s deputy director Rita Kersting, and chief curator of Museum Morsbroich Stefanie Kreutzer. Right: Theater historian Rachel Müller, artist Kenneth Bergfeld, and ICA Miami assistant curator Stephanie Seidel.

Newcomer Lukas Hirsch opened his gallery last Thursday with a collection of found (and stolen) industrial objects altered and mounted on the wall by artist Lukas Müller. It seemed that everyone I had met in town over the preceding weeks was in attendance––a scene dominated by students, alumni, and professors of the famed Kunstakademie. A few hours and countless Altbiers later, some of us found ourselves back at Peppi Bottrop’s studio, where artists Felix Amerbacher and Camillo Grewe put on a dangerous yet entertaining performance of acrobatics from the rafters. Testosterone filled the air and I was reminded of bros from my boarding school days: frustrated, bored, and full of flesh-and-blood Angst––no longer the teenage kind. After witnessing a long-winded, aggressive, and incoherent argument about the evening’s exhibition, I had to remind myself that here, where the patriarchy prior to Rita McBride’s tenure as director of the Akademie dominated so much of the self-identification of its students, boys will (try to) be Beuys.

Friday night. Cologne openings. A different city across the Rhine offers a different set of customs. In Germany, this means a different brew of beer, and here Kölsch was on the menu. Especially at Daniel Buchholz’s gallery, where the dealer presented Tony Conrad’s Super 8 combat film Beholden to Victory from 1980 in which actors––including David Antin, Tony Oursler, and the late Mike Kelley––were given no script, only restrictions and permissions making it a study in “good behavior.” Replete with archives, notes, edits, and other preparatory matter from the artist’s estate, the show offered a contextual glance into Conrad’s employment of structure to make an antistructural critique. I ran into a relaxed, good-natured Buchholz, who seemed to me more Cologne than Kölsch itself, smoking a cigarette in the garden. “There’s nothing to sell here, but if you have questions, I’d be more than happy to answer them,” he told me near the keg, seeming more a guest in his own gallery.

Left: Independent curator Pita Witzmann and Capri curator Gesine Borcherdt with artist Felix Schramm and collector Florian Peters-Messer. Right: Artists Wolfgang Strobel, Carolin Eidner, and Anika Ke.e.

Later, I joined Jan Kaps to celebrate Daniel Dewar and Grégory Gicquel’s labor-intensive objects in wood, ceramic, and textile with a joint dinner attended by the parties of Markus Lüttgen, DREI, Rob Tufnell, Clages, and others at Cologne staple Haus Töller, where the lightest thing on the menu was, naturally, more Kölsch. Afterward, the consensus was to stroll over to MD Bar for a real drink, but I remembered that Buchholz mentioned heading to a bar with the ever-promising name of Champagne––or so I thought. After some confusion, I found him with artist and Polke protégé Udo Lefin at Shampanja, a gay Kölsch bar––I should have known––where Lefin had just ordered a round for everyone. Or, more precisely, he counted forty-two patrons in the room and ordered forty-two beers––a quirky German punctilio, of which, at this point, I was happy to partake.

Perhaps I partook too much, because the next evening, after what was supposed to be a forty-five-minute nap, I woke up two hours late for the shuttle to the official gallery weekend dinner. I took an eighty-euro cab ride to the Museum Morsbroich in Leverkusen, where the only remaining signs of food were ice cream cones and smatterings of Resteessen. So I went to the bar, in the garden of this baroque Schloß-cum–modern art museum, one of the first in Germany to show contemporary exhibitions after the War, a venue that just a week before had been saved from selling its collection to front costs in the city’s municipal budget––a neoliberal misinterpretation of the institution’s role not uncommon among midsize cities with large deficits that house many of the small, regional museums in the Rhineland. The proposed sale had been deplored by artist Gerhard Richter in an open letter to the mayor of Leverkusen as “alarming” and opposed by local taxpayers and friends of the museum, and a tentative strategy was devised to keep the institution afloat, for now.

Left: Graphic designer Laura Catania. Right: Dortmunder Kunstverein director Oriane Durand.

The next evening in Düsseldorf, I found myself at Good Forever, a performance project space run by Tobias Hohn, Moritz Krauth, and Stanton Taylor––Kunstakademie students and disciples of Christopher Williams and Peter Doig––who took up the location of Matt Moravec’s previous Off Vendôme space for the summer. I arrived early to the smell of burning weed and incense, and an hour later, David Aird (known better as his stage name Vindicatrix) began to perform and play the best beats I had heard all weekend. Someone handed me a Xanax and a drink, and I felt my mind melt with the music as Aird repeatedly sang, “Let your body become your body” alternatively with lyrics from Beyoncé’s 2006 single “Check on It.”

Just as things were getting sexy, something happened: Performance duo New Noveta, dressed in brown, ruffled dresses––think 1980s austerity prom––pushed through the crowd, fighting over a pair of scissors, which they used to cut sacks full of sand hanging from their groins and bags full of squid ink hanging from the ceiling. Wet and shrieking, they wrestled into the street and an adjacent apartment building where the duel, presumably, continued upstairs. “Is there more, or…?” asked artist Andrew Christopher Green, after the ruckus. “I don’t know,” responded Taylor, answering for all of us in a moment of suspense so potent we hoped it would last forever.

Left: Esther Schipper director Cornelia Tishcmacher with artist Martin Boyce. Right: Director of Ludwig Museum Yilmaz Dziewior with director of Düsseldorfer Kunstverein Eva Birkenstock.

Left: DREI’s Dennis Hochköppeler and Judith Hochköppeler. Right: Artists Vicky Westermeier and Alex Wissel with filmmaker Jan Bonny and artist Giulia Bowinkel.

Left: Dealer Lukas Hirsch and publisher Inci Yilmaz. Right: Dealers Rob Tufnell and Marietta Clages.

Left: Dealer Jan Kaps with Kölnischer Kunstverein curator Carla Donauer. Right: Mélange’s Jonas Schenk and Cologne’s Representative of Fine Arts in Cultural Affairs Nadine Müseler.

Left: Dealer Daniel Marzona, head of the board of the Kunsteverein Tomas Waldschmidt, and collector Alex Hartan. Right: Artists Claus Föttinger and Yeşim Akdeniz.

Left: Dealer Bernd Hammelehle of Galerie Gammelehe und Ahren with artist Ulrich Lamsfuß. Right: Dealer Natalia Hug with artist Carolin Eidner.

Left: Conchita Wurst (right). Right: Artists Robert Kotsch, Burkhard Beschow, and Robert Brambora.

Left: Collectors Cédric Piétrus and Tobias Arndt. Right: Curator Carla Donauer, Kunsthalle Dusseldorf director Gregor Jansen, and artist Anne Poehlmann.

Left: Artists Jean-Marie Appriou and Grégory Gicquel. Right: Art historian Inge Charlotte Thiel with artists Alexander Bornschein and Camilo Grewe.

Left: Composer Marin Scmikler and dealer Daniel Buchholz. Right: Artist George Rippon with dealer Markus Lüttgen. (All photos: Julian Elias Bronner)

Left: Artists Andrew Christopher Green and Jorge Loureiro. Right: Art historian Inge Charlotte Thiel with artists Alexander Bornschine and Camilo Grewe.

Left: Artist Tracey Snelling (left). Right: Artists Melika Kara and Daniel Dewar.

Left: Artist Martin Pfeifle with artist and DJ Niko Chodor. Right: Artists Mathias and Katerina Neudeck.

Left: Artist Julian von Bismarck and Nord-Rhein-Westphalen-Forum’s Alain Bieber. Right: Artists Jan Ole Schiemann and Moritz Fiedler.

Left: Artist Hans Stoya, dealer Petra Rinck, and artist Diango Hernandez. Right: Artist Julian Charrière with dealer Alexander Sies of Sies + Hoke Galerie.

Left: Artist Calla Henkel, Frieze's Pablo Larios, and artist Max Pitegoff. Right: Artists Tita Giese, René Spitzer, and Berit Schneiderei.

Left: Artist Christoph Westermeier and Syndkt’s JL Murtaugh. Right: Artists Alexander Bornschein and Anika Ke.e.

Left: Artist Chris Succo and agriculturist Anna Stoke. Right: Artists Ayan Farah and Christofer Wallentin.

Left: Advisors Anna Hagemeier and David Achenbach with artists Andres Breuing and Henning Strassburger. Right: Artists Friedemann Heckel, Lukas Müller, and Alexander Bornschein.

Left: Architect Johann van Linn. Right: Author Michel Kerkmann

Left: Good Forever cofounders Moritz Krauth, Tobias Hohn, and Stanton Taylor with artist Lina Hermsdorf. Right: Stäfel Museum Frankfurt curator Jana Baumann with dealer Paul-Aymar Morgue d’Algue of Truth & Consequences.

Left: Artists Christoph Westermeier, Martin Pfeifle, and Lukas Müller. Right: Artists Louis Backhouse, Andrew Christopher Green, and Jorge Loureiro.

Left: Esther Schipper director Cornelia Tishcmacher with artist Martin Boyce. Right: Director of Ludwig Museum Yilmaz Dziewior with director of Düsseldorfer Kunstverein Eva Birkenstock.

Left: Dealers Susanne Zander and Nicole Delmes of Delmes & Zander with collectors and Salon Schmidt proprietors Trixi and Dirk Mecky. Right: Dealer Berthold Pott, artist Max Frintrop, Conny Zinkin of Cologne Fine Art, and Art Cologne director Daniel Hug.