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Collectors keep flocking to Cologne: Interview with gallery director Christian Nagel

Cologne's title as contemporary art capital is yet to be challenged with Berlin still in the fragmentary stages

Christian Nagel is director of Galerie Nagel which deals in younger, avant garde artists of the late 1980s and 1990s, and is one of the dealers who left Art Cologne last year to join the new Berlin Art Forum. From 1992-95, he organised the “Unfair” at the Cologne fair, which showed emerging artists. However, while he enjoys the energy and international ambience of Berlin, he keeps his gallery in Cologne and maintains that the Rhineland’s traditional place as a European contemporary art capital remains secure.

What is the difference between Cologne and Berlin?

Berlin is certainly the place to be in international terms but for art production purposes, artists working in Cologne and Düsseldorf are more important. I am thinking of Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Pölke and Rosemary Trockel.

Are the two cities complementary or competitive?

We should not forget that time still has to prove Berlin’s power. Compared to five years ago, things are really happening and there is a lot of hype, but if we look at it carefully a lot of the new galleries in the Mitte area are mediocre. Most collectors, with the exception of the Hoffmans, have remained in Cologne.

It is important to remember the differences between the two places. Cologne is the centre of the Rhineland and its artworld has developed over forty years. People here are very educated and interested in art. You cannot just push all of that away. In Berlin, many people have come there from outside the city; it is not a cohesive place yet. It is a new place that captures people’s imagination, which I think we should respect. But I don’t think that Berlin can eat up the other art centres in Germany. We should remember that Germany is a federalist country–each region has its major cities; there is not just one capital, like London or Paris.

Is Berlin the place where more cutting-edge, younger artists are gravitating, as opposed to a more established Cologne?

Of course there are many young artists attracted to Berlin. But now in Cologne there is a new head of the Ludwig Museum starting this month, Jochen Poetter (see interview this page), who is more attracted to the younger generation of artists, so we believe the Ludwig will become an even more important leader in cutting-edge art.

Is there rivalry between Cologne and Berlin?

Of course there are some in Cologne who consider Berlin a rival. One Cologne collector came into my gallery and said that if I showed in Berlin, he would stop patronising me! And some of the older galleries may be more wary. But younger galleries and artists are more concerned with flexible, international relationships, with movement between places–and another art centre in Berlin can only be good for this.

Do you see Berlin as a bridge between Eastern and Western Europe?

I am not yet convinced of this. There is not so much crossover between the two communities. For the first time, I will be showing East German artists (Olaf Nicolai and Matthias Holch) at the Berlin fair. But their work, interestingly, is a critique of how East Germany has been developing after reunification.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Collectors have remained'

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 75 November 1997