Does expanding art fairs abroad constitute a form of colonialism? The director of Germany's largest art fair, Art Cologne, accused Art Basel of putting profit over art, while planning his own expansion to Berlin.
As Germany's biggest art fair, Art Cologne, gets underway this week, its director Daniel Hug had some strong words to say against one of its rival events, the Art Basel. The 48-year-old American told the German news agency dpa that the organizers of the event in Switzerland, the MCH Group, were guilty of "colonialism" in the art world on account of exporting the successful art show to other parts of the world.
Art Basel has started to expand into Miami and Hong Kong and seems to be on course for further such expansions. The MCH Group is due to start Art Düsseldorf later this year. Some fear that the new fair could steal visitors away from Cologne, as the two cities are located only 50 kilometers (30 miles) away from each other - and have been regional rivals for centuries.
In contrast to the global empire forged by Art Basel, Hug said that Art Cologne fair, which he has headed for nine years, fulfilled the "important role of supporting the German art market."
"Art fairs are intended to reflect on and mirror the proceedings in the contemporary art scene; they're not supposed to influence the art scene. But if the Swiss decide to build outposts in all corners of the world, they will consolidate such power over the art scene that a great deal of regional art will be pushed off the market. This, too, is a form of colonialism," Hug said.
"Soon there'll be Art Basel somewhere year-round."
Art as a commodity?
But Hug himself meanwhile has got his eye on expanding his own event later in the year - in Berlin. Hug says that due to the Art Cologne and the Art Berlin being scheduled six months apart, there should be no rivalry between the two events, as more and more people are drawn to contemporary art.
"Germany is fully capable of having two art shows," Hug told dpa, saying that there was so much art available on the German market that another event was becoming necessary.
"Besides, Berlin has the highest concentration of artists after New York," Hug added, highlighting the high number of galleries in the German capital and its ever-changing creative scene.
Running from Tuesday through Saturday, April 29 Art Cologne highlights works by 200 contemporary artists this year, with half of those exhibited coming from abroad. Hug says he hopes that a sister event in Berlin in the autumn will allow more German artists to be featured, while drawing a greater international audience as well - especially to Berlin. Hug hopes that his expansion will reflect his personal take on art:
"Art cannot be at a standstill. It will always have to continue evolving."
ss/kbm (with dpa)