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Culture

Can Art Cologne Stay in the Picture?

Opening in Cologne Wednesday, Germany's oldest fair for contemporary art is determined to show that it can still hold its own against competition from London, Paris and Basel.

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Visitors to Art Cologne examine a piece by US artist Tony Matelli

"Art Cologne" manager Oliver P. Kuhrt flew in the face of the art world's customary discretion when he let slip Wednesday that the 38th International Modern and Contemporary Cologne Art Fair is all set to make a turnover of €60 million ($76 million) over the next five days. In contrast, the Berlin Art Forum enjoys a €10 million ($13 million) turnover, while sales at London's Frieze Art Fair reach €30 million ($38 million).

Hosting some 250 exhibitors from 22 countries and set to attract around 70,000 visitors, Art Cologne is therefore Europe's most profitable art marketplace this autumn.

Now that Kurth has scuppered any financial doubts the critics might have had, Art Cologne is also keen to prove that although it might not be the youngest trade fair on the scene, it still has its finger on the pulse.

Has Cologne missed the boat?

But does it? Cologne gallerist Luis Campana told DW-WORLD that Art Cologne has ignored calls to scale down for too long. "It's a question of quality," he said. "Art Cologne isn't willing to become smaller and that's what led the founding of Art Forum Berlin (in 1995). It was a reaction to what's wrong with Cologne."

"They've been sleeping for too long," Campana told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper. "They've missed the boat. There are simply better fairs than Art Cologne, and now it has a serious problem."

Fresh work

Sigmar Polke

Artist Sigmar Polke

Art Cologne director Gerard Goodrow is open to change and has done his best to revamp the fair's image, inviting scores of international collectors and major galleries, including Pace Wildenstein and Robert Miller from New York, and introducing a number of innovations such as shared stands, which juxtapose, for example, Georg Baselitz and Sigmar Polke (photo) with rare classical antiquities.

"We have to improve the fair's quality," Goodrow told Welt am Sonntag. "We need fresh work and we want it to be well presented."

Welcoming more international visitors than in previous years, this year's event is also showcasing more work by younger, contemporary artists, including Julia Jansen, Janice MacNab and Simon Pasieka.

Commercial pressure

Nonetheless, Goodrow isn't willing to reduce the number of gallerists exhibiting in Cologne. "We have to sell," he said. "So we can't cut back the number of exhibitors."

Alternative art fairs, meanwhile, are gaining in popularity. This year sees the first "Rheinschau" exhibition in Cologne taking place at the same time as Art Cologne. The focus here is on daring, experimental contemporary art which, organizers say, is not often seen at the bigger art fairs.

But fashion aside, Rheinschau can't begin to compete with Art Cologne's commercial clout. Early sales this year included a 1954 Willi Baumeister painting, bought for €320,000 ($407,000), and a piece by Gerhard Richter for just as much.

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