Regional Delicacies

Kristian Vistrup Madsen reports from Art Cologne

Artist Zuzanna Czebatul and her carpet work, Higher Than the Sun, 2018, at Art Cologne. (All photos: Kristian Vistrup Madsen)

“IT’S THE BIGGEST ARTWORK my mother ever bought,” Sabine Langen-Crasemann told me of the Langen Foundation’s Tadao Ando–designed museum space in a field outside Düsseldorf. Her mother sold a 1951 Jackson Pollock to pay for the elegant glass structure, lined with cherry trees. If the parade of luxuriously stalwart Rimowa suitcases at the airport had not made it abundantly clear, we are not in cheaply uncheerful Berlin anymore. Welcome to the Rhineland: the densest landscape of private museums and collectors in Europe.

At Museum Ludwig on a Tuesday night, as Haegue Yang received the prestigious Wolfgang Hahn Prize, Cologne’s art aristocracy rubbed shoulders with Städelschule kids from Frankfurt, where Yang holds a professorship. “It’s been called the best museum in the world,” she said. “I’m not sure about that. But it is the best museum I’ve worked with.” Slipping out of the artist’s cluttered retrospective to tour Ludwig’s permanent hang, this assessment is not far off: It’s absolutely stellar. Robert Rademacher, chairing the board of North Rhine Westphalia’s mammoth art reserve, seemed to know the collection like the back of his hand. In anticipation of tomorrow’s fair, the seasoned collector paraphrased Picasso: “I don’t look, I just find.”

Artist Haegue Yang.

In its fifty-second edition, Art Cologne, which ran from April 19 to April 22, is the oldest fair of its kind in the world, more solid than it is sexy—or, to stay with my previous image, more Rimowa than Louis Vuitton (that the former was recently bought by the latter makes the comparison only more apt, two sides of the same coin). In playful self-awareness of the money-madness inherent in such an occasion, artist Zuzanna Czebatul covered the massive entrance hall in wall-to-wall casino-style carpeting. But Art Cologne is underpinned by a network of relationships and histories more robust than its younger and flashier counterparts. The fair’s art director, Daniel Hug, has spearheaded a ten-year revamp of the event, with some success already in pushing for fresher, more international galleries. Still, the charm of Cologne is its localism. “For us it’s a Heimspiel,” young Frankfurt dealer Philipp Pflug told me, a “home-game.” “We know many of the collectors and can develop our relations with them.” Stefania Palumbo of Berlin’s Supportico Lopez agrees: “Increasingly, all the big fairs are the same. Here it’s more intimate.”

Fittingly, as in a game of musical chairs, crowds rushed to partake in Wednesday night’s dinner race. After downing oysters at Galerie Nagel Draxler’s Egan Frantz exhibition, Palumbo happily opted out of the frenzy for a tête-à-tête with her partner. Meanwhile, I joined around two hundred of Daniel Buchholz’s closest friends, along with the galleries Sprüth Magers, David Zwirner, and Gisela Capitain, for a sit-down meal in Wolkenburg, a medieval convent/ideal wedding venue. The heavyweights served a light menu of ox carpaccio and monkfish to a list of guests counting Marina Abramović, whose career-spanning assemblage, “The Cleaner,” was to open the next day at the Bundeskunsthalle in nearby Bonn.

Artists Egan Frantz and Tobias Spichtig.

In a shift of register possible perhaps only in the ever-double-tracking art world, the tiered dessert assortment at Wolkenburg was seamlessly followed by an invitation to the steamy strip bar King Georg, which featured a hilarious GIF of the young Prince George of Cambridge, courtesy of Arcadia Missa, Deborah Schamoni, Galerie Max Mayer, and Project Native Informant. Here, elated but tired exhibitors and their friends enjoyed Sekt auf Eis—iced sparkling wine, a trashy Kneipe classic. Relief spread with the pouring of every drink into sturdy whiskey glasses, filled to the brim.

Hangover food was needed. So Thursday morning, a constellation of Munich exhibition spaces invited art lovers to suck on Bavarian-style white sausages—yes, this is really how you eat them—to promote Various Others, a program of collaborative Happenings to take place in the city in September. Our hosts for the meaty breakfast included dealer Deborah Schamoni, who brought Aileen Murphy’s sensual pastel figurations to her booth, and dealer Johannes Sperling, who exhibited Veronika Hilger’s Gustony still lifes. Though Art Cologne is still the perfect place to fawn over Günther Förg’s covertly conservative (but gorgeous) doodles, or expedite an Alice Neel in the high six figures, its “Collaborations” and “New Market” sections were also rich with greener painting talent.

Kölnischer Kunstverein director Moritz Wesseler, artist Alex da Corte, and Josh Lilley Gallery director William Pym.

New York–based painter Walter Price’s poetic abstractions on brown cardboard adorned the walls of the Kölnischer Kunstverein. The sausage fest continued there when queues gathered for the customary vernissage hotdogs that evening. In the main space, departing director Moritz Wesseler showed Alex Da Corte’s Bad Land, 2017, an immersive video installation starring the artist as an Eminem look-alike gradually descending into childish absurdity, first chewing cereal, then smearing a crown of yellow mustard onto his head. In a clever swan song to a particular type of slain yet still destructive masculinity, Da Corte explores the rescuing of Slim Shady’s image in a political moment where the homophobia and misogyny of the early 2000s is no longer taken so lightly. Outside, while most guests were only sorry the caterers had run out of wurst, Berlin dealer Johann König seemingly had something else on his mind, wearing a baseball cap with the word guilt on it. The crowds then moved on to the chic MD Bar, with the more steadfast among us ending the night in a shower of Kölsch at Schampagna. I learned in Cologne that, for better or worse, old habits die hard.

The White Review’s Izabella Scott, Sabine Langen-Crasemann of the Langen Foundation, and curator Christiane Maria Schneider.

Artists Brunhilde Groult and Robert Elfgen.

Dealers Geoff Newton, Josh Lilley, and William Pym.

Georg Jacobi of The Braunsfelder Family Collection; Katia Baudin, director of Kunstmuseum Krefeld; and Art Cologne director Daniel Hug.

Dealers Johannes Sperling and Claudia Rech.

Karla Zerressen of the Langen Foundation and Eugen Viehof of the Viehof Collection.

Artists Max Ruf, Sophie Reinhold, and artist/dealer Hannes Schmidt of Schiefe Zähne.

Dealer Noah Klink and Stefania Palumbo.