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Culture

What's old is new again at Art Cologne

A lover of the 60s will love this years Art Cologne. Germany's biggest art fair is beset with inspirations from years gone by, which some argue reflects Europe's current political atmosphere.

Visitor looking at bright artwork, at Art Cologne.

Cologne's Christian Lethert Gallery is selling both new and 60s art.

Free love and political revolt characterized the 1960s, but it seems the 1960s unofficially characterized this year's Art Cologne. The world's oldest modern art fair was packed with inspirations from another era, insinuating that what was once outdated is now back in style.

"The things of the 60s are so fresh and on the mind. It's like some of the artists are going back to the ideas of the 60s," said Benita Meisner, Director of Häusler Contemporary gallery.

Symposium speakers sitting on stage.

One symposium at the fair focused on art and politics

While roaming through the 190 plus exhibits, this 50 year trip down memory lane becomes increasingly apparent. Zurich's Lang & Pult Gallery featured retro, three-dimensional works. Gallery owner Stefano Pult himself proudly described them as "dated."

Meanwhile, Häusler Contemporary was selling minimalistic sculptures produced back in the 1960s, which have now resurfaced due to demand.

"Maybe in the 60s they had the right questions and some of the artists are coming back to this," Meisner said.

Art reflects politics

Part of this "retro revival" has been linked to modern-day politics and buyers' desire for a radical statement.

"It is very hard to generalize but in the 60s they were much more revolutionary oriented than in the 90s" said art critic Jörg Scheller. "Today art is more pragmatic. It is still very much politically oriented, but it has become less revolutionary."

Colourful painting.

Art is rarely completley new, one gallery owner said

Scheller aired his opinions earlier at an Art Cologne symposium, which debated political correctness and transparency within the art industry. He later told Deutsche Welle how art and politics are endlessly reflective of one another.

"You have the conservative governments in France, in Great Britain, in Germany, and in Hungary," he said. "I'm careful about this, but maybe there is more than a coincidence between the comeback of traditional art, and more traditional political and social values."

However, current artists are not shying away from political topics altogether. Among others, a picture by American photographer Mitch Epstein, featured in an exhibit by the Thomas Zander gallery, depicting the bleak consequences of nuclear fallout following Japan's Fukushima crisis, was enormously popular at this year's fair.

Other gallery owners agree that art with a 60s flare is often considered more confrontational - and this increases demand.

"For example, the (early) Katharina Sieverding work is really political, conceptual work, which is not often found nowadays," said Merle Reker from Cologne's Christian Lethert Gallery.

Paintings "in fashion"

In addition to 60s inspired content, older mediums have seen a resurgence of popularity in the art scene. Paintings, sculptures and photography exhibits were the trend at Art Cologne, in comparison to digital media displays.

"There was this media-art movement which reached its peak in the 80s and 90s, so now it's just a part of what's going on" Scheller said. "Today it's painting again, just because you can sell paintings more easily, you can buy a painting and put it on the wall."

Other Art Cologne attendees agreed.

"More paintings, more traditional stuff, more prints. I think there's a traditional medium comeback," said one Leipzig art dealer, who gave his name as Christian.

Defining what's new Although Art Cologne has revived older concepts and media, the trend may not continue for much longer. Like fashion, the art industry is constantly changing to spur new values and trade opportunities.

"You have to create a new audience, you have to create new buyers," Scheller said.

Art Cologne 2011

These days, art and political imagery go hand and hand

He added that artistic trends go in cycles, and although artists create new ideas and innovations, they are often inspired by past modes.

Stefano Pult, of the Lang & Pult gallery, noted it can be difficult for artists to produce something completely new, especially given that they have been exposed to so many distinctive styles in their training. But he doesn't believe this should be negatively perceived.

"You hardly will find something really new, in all the fair, in all the art world" he said. "But here, people make a new reading of what has been made, (based on) what they have really understood from art, and what they know."

Author: Hannah Wandel
Editor: Jennifer Abramsohn

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