When the great bells of Cologne cathedral ring out, the whole town centre is embraced by the thrilling reverberations. This still feels like a small town, although it is the main city of Germany’s richest regional State, the Rhineland. There are probably more collectors of modern and contemporary art within a fifty mile radius of here than anywhere else in Europe and not for nothing do dealers vie for a stand at the Cologne art fair (see p.75).
All museums are collector-based, but the older they get, the more the institution and the years plane out the interesting bumps in the various collectors’ obsessive accumulations and the more homogeneous the narrative becomes. The Ludwig museum, which reopened last month, is still in its bumpy and heroic phase of creation, with large stretches of empty walls to be filled. Kasper Koenig, the new director and a former art teacher and curator, has kicked off with an exhibition called “The museum of our wishes”, expressed by the labelling: gold labels for works already given, by artists (some beautiful drawings by Rosemarie Trockel, for example) and by sponsors; silver labels for works on loan for a year and a half, often from dealers, and seeking sponsors. The Tillmans illustrated above is one of these.
So what collectors have already contributed to the museum? Peter Ludwig, after whom the museum was renamed (for decades it was the Wallraf-Richartz, a collection of medieval and later painting, now re-housed nearby), was a chocolate millionaire who acquired compulsively. Thus the Ludwig now has the best American Pop art in Europe (Warhol Brillo boxes, Jasper Johns, Rauschenberg’s “Odalisque”, Segal, Stella etc), French artists of the 60s, two first-rate rooms of Soviet Avant-garde, and the collection that really made the city fathers dip into their pockets for the refurbishment: 774 Picassos. Admittedly, 725 of these are prints (hung three and four deep to great effect) and ceramics, but the rest are paintings and drawings of high quality. A room of well chosen 60s and 70s paintings shows the old Picasso at his best, and the sheer range of works here excites curiosity and amazement.
There is more than a nucleus of a photography collection, and a special video gallery with circular banquettes, as in an Edwardian drawing room, for viewing them.
But along with the Picassos, the main reason so far for making a big detour to see this museum is the Haubrich collection of German Expressionist and Neue Sachlichkeit paintings, which with their strength and at times violent emotiveness tell an alternative version of the history of early 20th-century art to the cerebral, anarchist, playful and surrealist inventions of Paris.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'The museum where the collectors make themselves felt'