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Culture

Art is a good investment in hard times, says Art Cologne

Despite the dreary economic climate, gallery owners and artists at the 2009 Art Cologne fair for modern and contemporary works aren't trimming down their stands. Still, visitors may prefer the postcards to the originals.

Installation 'Orbit' by Tony Oursler

The works most likely to sell are those that aren't quite this modern

Visitors to the 43rd Art Cologne, which opened on Wednesday, were greeted by a fallen Icarus. The six-meter (20-foot) high bronze colossus by sculptor Stephan Balkenhol is part of the sculpture program started by Art Cologne's new director Daniel Hug.

"For me, it was important for Art Cologne to have a face again," said Hug. "The sculptures give the first impression at the fair."

The annual art fair is shrinking rapidly, with 180 participants this year - 50 fewer than in 2008. But quality is more important than quantity, said Hug, adding that he hopes to halt the downward trend.

Nevertheless, the international finance crisis is taking its toll on the art world. Galleries are closing; art fairs are suffering from a hefty drop in sales.

'Icarus' by Stephan Balkenhol at the entrance to Art Cologne

Some gallery owners also feel like they're dangerously close to the sun

Facing financial fear with optimism

"This is my second fair," said gallery owner Petra Rinkh, who is presenting drawings and paintings by young artists which go for under 5,000 euros (US$6,500). "At the first fair, it was apparent from talking with other gallery owners that revenue has fallen."

Art Cologne organizers had done their part in preparing a good fair, said Rinkh, but no one knows how strong sales will be.

"Those who say they're not afraid are lying," she added.

Christian Nagel, who owns galleries in Bonn and Cologne, said business has been suffering since September of last year.

"My stand is the same as always," said Nagel. "We have some really big works - works that won't necessarily be sold. We have lots of pictures with lettering and large sculptures. We can't back down."

The letters "REAL" jump out from a painting by Heimo Zobernig. And a floor installation by Cosima von Bonin features tools on a pedestal.

Art as investment in tough times

It's the established Classical Modern artists who have the best chance of selling works at the fair - like Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst or Gabriele Muenter.

Gallery owner Franz von Salis has a still-life by Max Ernst on offer for 1.3 million euros (US$1.7 million) and said he hopes to find a buyer, in spite of the finance crisis.

"I think the art market has a good chance because it's the first time in the history of artwork that it's being thought of as a real investment, like real estate," he said.

Still, Art Cologne hasn't skirted the ever-present financial concerns that are plaguing gallery owners and artists alike: A series of drawings entitled "Economic Ice Age" takes a closer look.

Art Cologne director Daniel Hug

Hug started the sculpture program to give Art Cologne "a face"

Art meets science and myth

Another timely topic - the Darwin Year - is highlighted in the work "Developmental Noise" by artist Juergen Stollhans and biologist Federico Geller. In a series of drawings, they tell the fictional story of Ham the monkey, who was flown to outer space before Yuri Gargarin.

"Origins uncertain, education in Moscow very good, then kidnapped by the CIA, first monkey in outer space, excursion into art history, then he comes to East Berlin," Stollhans summed up the larger-than-life story.

Visitors who don't want to pay 1,200 euros for the original version can purchase a printed version of the Ham drawings for 2 euros at the Art Cologne store.

Author: Sabine Oelze / Kate Bowen
Editor: Michael Lawton

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