The 47th Art Cologne (Apr. 19-22) fair marked five years since Daniel Hug, previously an L.A.-based dealer, took over as director. "Dan Hug has done an incredible job, revamping the fair in a short time and bringing in some big galleries," Gilbert Lloyd, CEO of Marlborough Fine Arts (London), told A.i.A.
By 1995, the fair had so declined in quality—though it weighed in at 350 exhibitors—as to prompt gallerist Christian Nagel to co-found Art Forum Berlin as competition. Art Forum Berlin's days were also numbered. It lasted just 14 editions, from 1996 to 2010. The Cologne fair's recovery since then has seen not only high-quality German galleries like Konrad Fischer (Düsseldorf/Berlin), Galerie Neu (Berlin) and Klosterfelde (Berlin), but also big international dealers such as David Zwirner (New York/London), Thaddaeus Ropac (Salzburg/Paris) and Guy Pieters (Knokke) all return for a second year.
"It's a very German fair, especially in comparison to Art Brussels," which took place over the same weekend, Nadia Fatnassi, co-director of Marseille's Art-O-Rama art fair, told A.i.A. Fully three quarters of the 200 participating galleries at Art Cologne are German, Austrian or Swiss, but Matthias Mühling, head of collections at Munich's Lenbachhaus Museum, saw no problem: "Germany is one of the most important production sites for contemporary art, and galleries here have very international rosters," he told A.i.A. during the VIP preview.
Belgian collector Luc Haenen went to both fairs and told A.i.A. that he "found Art Cologne quite a bit more interesting than Art Brussels this year. It was a mix of top players such as Zwirner, Hauser & Wirth and Ropac, the best of local galleries like Buchholz, and cutting-edge galleries like Bugada & Cargnel [Paris] and Soy Capitán [Berlin]."
On the second floor, in the section with younger galleries, there were some high-quality booths. Schleicher/Lange (Berlin/Paris) showed gallery artists, including three knee-high spherical sculptures by London-based Chris Cornish, which capture the light of specific places on photographic paper that covers fiberglass spheres. Also impressive were conceptual works by Belgian artist Freek Wambacq at Catherine Bastide (Brussels). Helga Krobath (Vienna) opened her storage space to A.i.A. to reveal two large paintings by Berlin-based Greek artist Despina Stokou titled Hatometer 1 and Hatometer 2 (2012) for about $16,500 each. The canvases, one reddish, the other in dark, almost black tones, combine graffiti-style writing with bits of collage.
First-time Art Cologne participant Tina Wentrup (Berlin) sold Gregor Hildebrandt's stunning wall sculpture, Vertigo Kasten (Kim Novak), 2013, in which a rack of cassette tapes forms an image of the titular actress, to a Norwegian collector for about $33,000. Heike Tosun of Soy Capitán sold Gotscha Gosalishvili's 8-piece painting installation Malerwinkel, 2013, consisting of eight found landscape paintings of the same view, to a German-Dutch collector for $11,000 within the first hour.
Thaddaeus Ropac (Salzburg/Paris), on the first floor with the more established galleries, sold Jack Pierson's large light-up sculpture YES (2013) for $200,000 within minutes of the VIP opening. By a few hours later, James Rosenquist's Plexiglas-and-canvas collage In honor and memory of Robert F. Kennedy from the friends of Eugene McCarthy (1968), depicting a gray chair in front of a background of colorful ribbons, for $900,000, was on reserve. It sold 11 months ago, in a daytime sale at Sotheby's New York, for $362,500. Though the gallery did well on the first day, Georg Baselitz's large wooden sculpture Torso Rosa (no. X 93), 1993 and Josef Beuys's table installation Tisch mit Aggregat (1958-85) for about $1.6 million and $1.7 million, respectively, remained unsold by the end of day one.
Guy Pieters (Knokke) dedicated half of his booth to a solo display of works by Belgian conceptual art legend Guillaume Bijl titled The History of Documenta (1964-2012), consisting of three wax figures: Bruce Nauman, Harald Szeemann and James Lee Byars.
This being Europe, some of the most-noticed people at the fair were soccer players. For the third time this year, former Chelsea player Michael Ballack browsed the booths and lingered at Sprueth Magers. With 1995 Wimbledon winner Michael Stich and soccer legend Günter Netzer also regulars, Art Cologne has become somewhat of a sportsman's meet.
PHOTO: Gregor Hildebrandt, Vertigo Kasten (Kim Novak), 2013, mixed mediums.