PRINT October 2000


Kasper König

BIG THINGS ARE EXPECTED of Kasper König when he becomes director of Cologne's Museum Ludwig in November. A former Warhol Factory worker, founder of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design's influential publishing program, and most recently dean of the Frankfurt Städelschule and director of the institution's Portikus project space, the fifty-six-year-old König is incontestably a mover and shaker—and Cologne could use a little moving and shaking. Arguably Europe's most prominent contemporary art center in the '80s, Cologne's star dimmed during the '90s, a result of rising taxes and a slowed national economy as well as competition from a resurgent post-unification Berlin. The current Museum Ludwig, which opened in 1986, was hit especially hard by the death in 1996 of Peter Ludwig, whose distinguished collection of twentieth-century art serves as the backbone of the institution. The passing of the chocolate manufacturer spelled the drying up of money for new acquisitions. With the departure of former director Jochen Poetter, who failed to revive the institution following his 1997 appointment, many in the Rhineland are pinning their hopes on König to turn around the museum's—and the city's—cultural life.

Some have questioned the wisdom of appointing a director with little museum experience; no one, however, questions his ability to pull off major exhibitions. König's curatorial record includes such feats as “Westkunst” (1981) and the Münster Sculpture Project (1977, 1987, and 1997). In fact, his clout enabled him to secure substantial concessions as a condition for joining the Ludwig: He demanded two new senior curators (adding to the original five), three assistant curators, and a much-needed press officer; his lobbying also produced an annual exhibitions budget of DM 500,000 ($229,000), and annual contributions of DM 1,000,000 ($458,500) each from the Ludwig Foundation and the city to go toward acquisitions. König himself is committed to raising an additional million marks, and his plans to enrich the collection include the amusingly titled exhibition “Museum of Our Desires.” Scheduled for November 2001, the show will feature some one hundred works on König's wish list—many highlighting Cologne's role as a Fluxus hotbed—that patrons will be invited to buy for the museum. His resourcefulness will be more than welcome given the museum's expected expansion in 2001.

Playing up Cologne's strengths is central to König's project: “There are so many museums in Germany that show exactly the same art—say, a Long, a Merz, and a Kiefer in a big room. I want to emphasize that Cologneis a particular place with its own collections and traditions.” Indeed, König is quick to point out that he aspires to make the Ludwig tough-minded as well as popular. “My job is to make it attractive to people but not to lure them in under false pretenses,” he says. “A museum can't compete with soccer or pornography.”

James Hall is a frequent contributor to Artforum.