PRINT November 1996



FORGET THE FABLED RIVALRY with Düsseldorf that animated the thoughts of Kölners from the ’60s through the ’80s. The new Tom to Cologne’s Jerry is Berlin, but judging by the pervasive spirit of resignation, this particular game of cat-and-mouse is all but up. The topic of discussion, so it seems, throughout Cologne today is the city’s waning appeal as a center for contemporary art. A number of galleries, like Galerie Busche and Max Hetzler, have already left for the promise of Berlin, while others—among them, Schipper & Krome and Béla Jarzyk—have announced intentions to follow suit. Add to this that Texte zur Kunst, the house organ of institutional critique launched here six years ago, is following the lead of many of its writers and also shifting its headquarters to the reinstated capital. The threat from Berlin to Cologne’s hegemony over the German art world has come as a blow to many here.

The rivalry between Cologne and Berlin, one that is hardly new but for the first time since World War II is centered on gallery and museum culture, reached its peak this year with the competition between vying art fairs. Since the original governing board and many prominent galleries withdrew last year from the Bundesverband Deutscher Galerien (Federal association of German galleries) due to disputes over the restructuring of Art Cologne, and the May formation of the competitive European Galleries Projektgesellschaft (E.G. project society), things have come to a head. At the end of October, Berlin hosted its inaugural fair for contemporary art, and the coeval opening of the city’s Hamburger Bahnhof, an annex of the Neue Nationalgalerie devoted mainly to contemporary art, raised the stakes, providing an extra lure to collectors, museum administrators, and others interested in art. Dealers from Cologne who were among those to conceive of the Berlin Fair, christened “European Art Forum Berlin” (e.g., Rudolf Kicken, Philomene Magers, and Christian Nagel), view it as an opportunity to hold a high-quality fair restricted through a strict selection process to around 135 galleries. Some of those who did not participate—among them, Daniel Buchholz, Aurel Scheibler, or Gabriele Rivet—argued that a new fair in Berlin does nothing to solve the problem of number of participants and level of quality. Aurel Scheibler, for instance, wouldn’t have even considered attending in Berlin, since the fair, with its number of well-established galleries, in no way represented a programmatic counterweight to Art Cologne, as did the 1992 and 1993 “Unfair” in Cologne.

The organizers of Art Cologne seem fairly unconcerned about the new Berlin fair. The oldest fair for modern art in the world (and celebrating its thirtieth anniversary this year), the Cologne fair is still large, drawing 279 participants this year. The press office stresses that galleries from twenty-two countries are taking part. In two special exhibitions Art Cologne is presenting photos by August Sander from the collection of the Stadtsparkasse Köln and an installation by Robert Wilson. Remarkably, this year’s Art Cologne Prize, worth 20,000 deutsche marks, is going to Peter Littmann from Hugo Boss AG for his sponsorship activities in the art world, such as the company’s collaboration with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and partial underwriting of Georg Baselitz’s 1995–96 traveling retrospective.

Some gallerists don’t see reform of the fair as much of an issue either way. For his part, Buchholz would rather come up with new concepts altogether to counteract flagging interest in the city. Over a three-month period, in fact, he will present a project he has been developing with artists Christopher Müller and Cosima von Bonin, “Glockengeschrei nach Deutz, das Beste aller Seiten” (Scream of the church bells toward Deutz: the best of all sides), which moves away from single exhibitions lasting for several weeks in favor of fluctuating group exhibitions with rapidly changing configurations of artists (including Wolfgang Tillmans, Candida Höfer, Albert Oehlen, and Jutta Koether). Visual artists won’t be alone in the gallery; reflecting the interest in music theory in the city, for example, experimental musicians and DJs will also hold concerts as part of the project. (Judging by the growth of PopKomm., Cologne’s music-industry fair, the city’s status as music capital of Germany seems unchallenged. Held annually in August, the fair—the largest in Europe—reached record size this year, with more than thirty concerts held at different sites daily during the five-day event.)

Other gallery owners are also attempting to jump-start interest in Cologne by turning to novel forms of gallery shows. “Interdisciplinary” seems to be the watchword these days. Markus Schneider, of Lukas & Hoffmann, sees the city’s flagging status as liberating, allowing the gallery to present work less programmatically; he views his relatively new space (in a building he shares with Luis Campaña, Christian Nagel, and Sabine Schmidt) more as a laboratory than a white cube. Schneider is holding readings (Norman Ohler recently read from his World Wide Web novel Die Quotenmaschine) and concerts (by bands such as Berlin’s Ocean Club and the local group SuperFi) in his gallery, and plans eventually to work in fashion and design themes as well.

If interdisciplinarity is the buzzword, the tendency toward institutional critique and explicitly politicized art, so virulent in Cologne just a few years back, seems to have largely fallen by the wayside. Alice Creishcer and Andreas Siekmann, instigators of last year’s attempt at an alternative fair, “Messe 2 ok”—which featured panel discussions and seminars concerned with the politics of the art market—have emigrated to Berlin. The departure of Texte zur Kunst will no doubt exacerbate the tendency.

Despite various undeniable shortcomings, the swiftly spreading spirit of doom seems premature. Those not jumping off this allegedly sinking ship are taking stock in the city’s actual resources, and the perception that the situation is a dire one may have had the positive effect of coordinating the efforts surrounding events like Art Cologne. Even the Museum Ludwig, whose contemporary art exhibitions hardly managed to lure anyone in the past, is getting with the program. Whereas its earlier exhibitions were devoted mostly to subjects like the Russian avant-garde, Yves Klein, or German Expressionism, the museum is now showing the significant private collections of Reiner Speck, a local physician and president of the Marcel Proust Society. Deliberately scheduled to last through the end of the Cologne art fair, the exhibition comprises not only works of “old masters” like Cy Twombly, Mario Merz, Jannis Kounellis, and Lawrence Weiner, but also established artists associated with Cologne, among them Georg Herold, Rosemarie Trockel, Sigmar Polke, and Walter Dahn. Even work by younger, less-well-known figures (Tobias Rehberger’s wood pieces representing Frankfurt bank buildings, Dan Asher’s sculpture and delicate line drawings) is represented here. The catalogue has been published by local bookdealer Walter König, and the exhibition space, a complete reorganization of the museum’s interior, was designed by Cologne architect Oswald Mattias Ungers.

Also coinciding with the fair is Rirkrit Tiravanija’s exhibition in the Kölnischer Kunstverein. Director Udo Kittelmann, whose reputation for eschewing traditional media and thematizing questions of perception is well established, has specialized until now in installations that lay far greater emphasis on overall impressions than on individual works. Despite the fact that not all of his ambitious but at times contrived exhibitions have been well received here, Kittelmann has managed in a short time to garner a high profile for the Kunstverein. For his exhibition, Tiravanija is building a fully functional apartment complete with bathroom and kitchen in the Kunstverein. Open at all times, Tiravanija’s installation provides all corners unsupervised run of the place—a site, in other words, that develops a dynamic all its own. The conversion of a seemingly public space into a private one (and vice versa) and the question of who will use the apartment are some of the issues explored in what may be Tiravanija’s most ambitious exhibition to date.

Along with these institutional events, projects by independent curators are in the works, such as art critic Uta M. Reindl’s “Art Special: Hansa.” The title refers both to the show’s parallel run with Art Cologne and to its unusual exhibition site: the Hansa-Gymnasium, a UNESCO school in the center of Cologne. For a weekend the school’s classrooms are being turned into highly individualized exhibition spaces. The twenty-two invited artists (including Eberhard Bossier, Gesine Braun, Walter Dahn, Jarg Geismar, Andreas M. Kaufmann, Chris Newman, Keith Piper, Hinrich Sachs, Ryszart Wasko, and Peter Wüthrich) are to conceive their contributions in collaboration with the students, who join in the projects as “sponsors” with interviews and collections of material, take part in putting together the catalogue, and in certain instances appear in artists’ photos or videos.

The projects of “Die Wandelhalle” (“The lobby”), usually scheduled to coincide with Art Cologne, are also site-specific. With no fixed exhibition space, the Verein, directed by Petra Stilper, has thus far carried out its efforts in widely diverse sites: an underground garage, a prominent square in the city center, a burned-out residential building, and, on two occasions, the hollow of the Deutzer Bridge. Projects with artists such as John Armleder, Leni Hoffmann, Mischa Kuball, Matthew McCaslin, Marcel Odenbach, and Jeffrey Wisniewsky have always been determined by their extreme locations, but the extraordinary site-specificity is less important than the idea of creating a forum in a public, urban site. This year Die Wandelhalle has for the first time chosen to present models, drawings, and computer-altered photographs of its current project, a “mobile art space” devised by New York–based architect and artist Simon Ungers scheduled for completion in spring ’97, at a booth in Art Cologne. Ungers’ temporary exhibition space consists of a module that can freely expand from an 81-cubic-meter space through widening or lengthening or by the addition of a story, and since the walls can be lined from within, it can also become a “white cube” exhibition space. Erected in an urban setting, the art container itself appears to be a reduced minimal work without losing its functionality. Along with his interest in the dissemination of art into marginal urban sites, Ungers’ work also thematizes the overcoming of the division between the autonomous artwork and architecture.

Competition with Berlin may turn out to be the best thing to happen to Cologne. At least for some artists, the new quietude found in the city may be even more conducive to their work. Those like Herold and Trockel, who has lived in the city since the mid ’70s, regard it as an ideal place for someone who has already staked out a position. While Berlin as an experimental site seems well suited for young artists still carving out a niche, its status, according to many, is overrated. Herold, who teaches in art colleges in Frankfurt and Amsterdam, also greatly appreciates Cologne’s proximity to so many other cities like Düsseldorf and Bonn and the unique concentration of museums both in the city and nearby. If anything, the vitality of nearby institutional resources, galleries showing more established modern artists (e.g., Galerie Gmurzynska, Karsten Greve, Jule Kewenig, Alex Lachmann, or Michael Werner), and those like Johnen & Schöttle, Rolf Ricke, Sophia Ungers, Otto Schweins, which show a mix of emerging as well as established artists, will contribute to creating a fertile site for art in Germany.

Yilmaz Dziewior contributes regularly to Artforum.

Translated from the German by David Jacobson.