A subdued journey down the Rhine for these Cologne art fairs

Trade was slow at these three very diverse events


Art fairs are increasingly becoming expensive shop windows, but art and antique dealers have to do them to finance their operations and find new clients. That was what many of the 242 dealers said, at this year’s Cologne’s three-way Kunst Messe Köln (Antiques, 5-13 April: KunstKöln (Editions, Art Brut, Photography, Art from 1980), 5-9 April: and the Antiquarian Booksellers Fair, 4-6 April).

Understandably, many exhibitors journeyed to the Rhine with some misgivings. Johannes Döbele, an art dealer from Dresden and participant for 25 years in the former West German Art Fair (the name of which was changed a few years ago, somewhat infelicitously, to Kunst Messe Köln), had his reservations confirmed.

“Very subdued” was his opinion of the mood prevailing on the opening night. He is, however, certain that he will sooner or later find the right collector for the sketch of a mural by Max Ackermann, delightfully entitled “Thoughts about art.”

Anat Isman-Fänder, an expert on French and Danish silver who has shops both in Hamburg and Munich, finances them by taking stands in Cologne, Munich, Basel and Brussels. “It’s a painful fact of life that shops have to be maintained for prestige, even though few people come into them nowadays”, she said. On the opening night she managed to find buyers for an early Lalique vase, and for several pieces of silver by Frantz Hingelberg.

At KunstKöln, things went quite well for Herbert Meyer-Ellinger, a gallery owner from Frankfurt who exhibits twice a year in Cologne, as well as in Basel and—this year—at Art Frankfurt, in order to keep his gallery business going outside the art fair seasons.

On the first evening he sold a series of Richard Serra first editions, and had some serious interest in an early Chillida print and a thoughtful line drawing by Brice Marden.

Michael Schultz, the gallery owner from Berlin, claims always to have made good sales at KunstKöln. It was no different this time, as even before the preview he had knocked down, to a fellow dealer, a picture by the 27-year-old Korean girl Seo, a student of Baselitz. She makes collages from thin scraps of paper and then paints them over. The works sell for €2,800, and Mr Schultz soon sold eight by her. “It is super that people are buying art by the young—even when times are bad”, enthused Mr Schultz.

Only a few dealers, however, had as much cause for joy.

As if three such diverse fairs under one roof were not enough, and perhaps also because the layout of the four-part KunstKöln is still not sufficiently clear, the scene was further complicated by special displays and activities.

These took up at least 50 of the catalogue’s 200 pages, and included the exhibition “abcd—une collection d’art brut” from the collection of Bruno Decharme, the French film-maker, the display of the photo collection of Caldic (the Rotterdam chemicals group), the award of the KunstKöln prize to Jörg Sasse, as well as an individual exhibition and a collection of several major interactive works of art to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the “235 Media” company, which was founded in Cologne.

The “Art brut” sector of KunstKöln is the only one of its kind in Europe, and interest has been stoked following a very successful initial auction at Christie’s in New York.

Even so, the “Art from 1980” section does not seem quite so fresh. And many a gallery-owner was sneaking an envious look at Brussels where, as a result of it being brought forward by the Belgians, the Art Brussels fair was opening up at almost the same time.

Overall, it seems that dealers were just about pulling through in the Spring Cologne fairs.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'A subdued journey down the Rhine'

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 136 May 2003