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Sweet smell of success for reborn Art Cologne

German galleries, especially those from Berlin, are flocking to the revitalised fair this week<br>

Art Cologne was saved from near-oblivion when Daniel Hug took charge in 2008. Over the past few years, the Swiss-born American director has resuscitated the fair by focusing on quality rather than quantity: he reduced the number of exhibitors, moved the fair into a new hall, lured back blue-chip galleries and drew in Germany’s cutting-edge contemporary art dealers. 

One of the fair’s main challenges has been to unify the decentralised German art market. In Germany, cities such as Frankfurt, Munich, Leipzig, Düsseldorf and Hamburg can each claim an active art scene, with major institutions and contemporary galleries. “Bringing the best galleries from each of these major German cities into one fair has been our biggest achievement,” Hug says. 

Although the German art market is dispersed throughout the country, the largest group of exhibitors at Art Cologne comes from Berlin. Cologne’s art scene is often pitted against the capital’s, but Hug sees no such rivalry. “It’s like comparing apples and oranges,” he says. “Berlin is a huge city in comparison with Cologne; it has almost 300 galleries, numerous artists and a whole new generation of interesting young collectors.” 

Although Berlin remains a major hub for art in Germany, it lacks a strong art fair, making Art Cologne vital for the German market. Berlin-based galleries flock to the event because “the Rhineland has an incredible density of private collections, institutions and museums—and it’s easily accessible from the Benelux countries”, Hug says. The region is also home to more mid-range collectors than Berlin. 

Hug has made significant efforts to reorganise the fair in preparation for its 50th anniversary in 2016. The number of exhibitors has remained almost unchanged, with around 200 galleries from 23 countries taking part (against 221 galleries from 25 countries in 2014). But this year’s edition will spread across three levels (rather than the usual two) of Hall 11 in Koelnmesse, one of the world’s largest exhibition centres. 

For the first time, dealers specialising in Modern and post-war art will get their own floor. The largest, middle floor will host the fair’s contemporary section, featuring international heavyweights such as David Zwirner, Hauser & Wirth, Michael Werner and Sprüth Magers, and established German dealers including Galerie Gisela Capitain (Cologne) and Galerie Buchholz (Cologne and Berlin). The third floor will be devoted to New Contemporaries, the young galleries section that is now sponsored by Deutsche Bank, and Collaborations, the programme launched last year in partnership with the New York-based New Art Dealers Alliance (Nada) for joint presentations.

Art Cologne, Hall 11, Koelnmesse, Messeplatz 1, Cologne, 16-19 April