Seen from the air, the area comprising Bonn, Cologne, Düsseldorf and Essen looks like a single megalopolis, and the cities are linked by a metropolitan rail system which makes it extremely easy to move from one place to another.
This rich Catholic city with a peaceful, ancient appearance, is nicknamed the Rome of the North; it is famous for Kölsch, the local beer, and the Carnival. It is in the centre of Europe, a few hours by train or car from Luxembourg, Brussels, Paris and Holland—an ideal location as far as contemporary art and the art market is concerned, and one which gained it undisputed supremacy in Germany in the 1970s and 1980s.
The first German art fair, Art Cologne, was held here in 1967, and every single important artist of today has exhibited in the city’s art galleries, from Andy Warhol and Richard Serra to Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst.
When the art market collapsed at the beginning of the 1990s, the reunification of Germany and the gradual removal of the capital of Germany from Bonn to Berlin caused Cologne to be slightly overshadowed. However, over the past few years, things seem to be improving, and the city galleries are displaying a cautious optimism. It is helpful that there are more keen collectors of contemporary art in this area, which includes Cologne, Düsseldorf, Bonn and Essen, than anywhere else in Germany.
Unofficial estimates put the number of current collectors in this region, who buy regularly and keep tabs on all the developments in the art world, at at least 300. By profession they are doctors, publishers, hotel owners, industrialists and academics.
The region boasts large numbers of museums, Kunsthalles and Kunstvereins, and there is a fruitful competition between the various cities. In many cases, the initial basis of any given museum is a private collection, for example K21 (see p.13), the museum of collections of contemporary art in Nordrhein-Westphalia; and the Ludwig Museum, consisting mainly of the collections formed by Josef Haubrich and Peter Ludwig.
After only two years, its director Kasper Koenig has found favour with the art public, collectors and galleries of Cologne. Since the arrival of this dynamic, volatile man (formerly rector of the Städelschule in Frankfurt, and of the Portikus Gallery in the same town, as well as the curator of such famous exhibitions as “Westkunst”, 1981, and “von hier aus”, 1984) the situation regarding the arts and culture in Cologne has vastly improved and the city is attracting more tourists than ever.
The commercial galleries in this area, particularly in Cologne and Düsseldorf, are extremely lively, and they serve a very educated and well informed public and many artists live and work in the area (including: Albert Ohelen, Rosemarie Trockel, Andreas Gursky, Kai Althoff, Sigmar Polke, Günther Förg, Jörg Immendorff, Johannes Wohnseifer, Axel Hütte, Thomas Ruff, Dirk Skreber).
The local galleries fall into various categories, beginning with those that have been there for several decades: Gmurzynska (see facing page), Jablonka, Michael Jannsen, Rolf Ricke (see p.12), Michael Werner, Karsten Greve. Their number is constantly being added: Gisela Capitain (see facing page), Johnen + Schöttle, Monika Sprüth, Christian Nagel, Otto Schweins (see facing page), Mirko Meyer, Daniel Buchholz, Frehrking Wiesenhöfer, and Hammelehle und Ahrens, who have just moved to Cologne from Stuttgart, into a new gallery complex, with Luis Campaña (see facing page).
Dialogue between the generations is lacking in Cologne, and the Art Cologne fair, which should reflect the art of the whole city, is currently going through an identity crisis. It stands poised somewhere between the requirements of the historic galleries of Cologne and the younger ones whose interests are directed towards the art of the 1990s, and who prefer livelier fairs such as Berlin’s Art Forum ( see p.12).
The situation in Düsseldorf is equally dynamic: the celebrated Art Academy is here, with its traditional “Rundgang” (walkabout) week in February, at which the students’ art is presented, and which attracts about 27,000 visitors.
Teachers at the Düsseldorf Academy have included in the past Paul Klee, Joseph Beuys, Nam June Paik and the Bechers, and whole generations of artists have felt their influence. The current director is Markus Lüpertz, and the staff include Thomas Ruff (photography), Georg Herold, Rosemarie Trockel (sculpture), Gerhard Merz, Daniel Buren, Joerg Immendorff, Albert Oehlen, Helmut Federle (painting).
The museums of Düsseldorf include, in addition to the new K21, K20 (to be renovated); the museum kunst palast, under the directorship of Jean-Hubert Martin, a Kunsthalle and a Kunstverein; the private galleries in the city include Konrad Fisher (see facing page), Hans Mayer, Sies + Höke, Conrads, Gmyrek, and Bochynek and Taubert. Groups of galleries are taking root in the former industrial suburbs of Düsseldorf, Oberkassel and Heerdt. Rita Kerstin, director of the Kunstverein, is planning to set up public workshops for young artists in order to encourage them to remain in the city. Quite a number of young artists have abandoned life in the Rhineland on grounds of expense, moving to cheaper cities like Berlin.
Essen, north of Düsseldorf in the Ruhr basin (Ruhrland), has recently marked the centenary of the Museum Folkwang, which was originally a private initiative but is now public. The museum was founded by Karl Ernst Osthaus, the son of a banker. At the beginning of the last century, when the coal mining and steel industries were at their most productive, he far-sightedly saw the need for a building dedicated to the arts amid this drastic industrialisation.
In 2002, the Ruhr basin, which was once the European capital of heavy industry, is a desolate and “romantic” post-industrial landscape, with a series of abandoned factory buildings looking like the vestiges of early capitalism. The Kookerei Zollverein (subtitled: “contemporary art and criticism”), located in a former factory, is part of this cultural rehabilitation of the Ruhr basin.
The declared aim of the directors, Marius Babias and Florian Waldvogel, is to mix the genres and involve both public and “producers” (artists, musicians, theorists) in a common experiment. Among the artists invited to take part in the opening show, “Arbeit Essen Angst” in 2001 were Dan Peterman, Olfa Metzel, Tobias Rehberger, Valie Export, William Kentridge, Andreas Slominski, Angela Bulloch, Hans-Peter Feldmann.
The institution is a challenge: it presents itself as a new kind of training agency (it is subsidised by the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, government centre for political training), thus putting into question the conventional role of the museum as a container for works of art. This establishment would like to be considered as a centre for interdisciplinary artistic and theoretical production, with no limits imposed by genre (www.kookereizollverein.de).