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Established fair experiments in Art Cologne's twenty-third year

Big names for private collectors and big sculptures for museum curators

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The thirty-third Art Cologne, Germany’s most prestigious fair for twentieth-century art (7-14 November), was considered a success by most of its 264 exhibitors. A large number of exhibits had already been sold in the course of the professional preview on the Saturday before the opening. On the opening evening itself, 15,000 guests were counted, almost as many as visited the entire five-day Berlin Art Forum (16,171).

After Art Basel, many consider Art Cologne the most important twentieth-century art fair in Europe. Its international prestige is largely based on the quality and number of foreign participants. This year, 100 galleries from eighteen countries outside Germany participated. The strongest group was Italy (eighteen stands), followed by Switzerland (fifteen) and the Netherlands (eleven).

Despite the row about the galleries excluded this year (see The Art Newspaper No.97, November 1999, p.58), little had changed on the upper level where the more established dealers display their goods. The heavyweights, Galerie Karsten Greve, Galerie Gmurzynska, Galerie Buchmann, Annely Juda Fine Art, Anthony d’Offay Gallery, Galerie Hans Mayer and Marlborough Galerie were at the heart of the first floor. Waddington and Hetzler and Achenbach cancelled this year. Karsten Greve sold sixteen works of art during the first five days. The most exceptional pieces, two polychrome ceramic vases “Ceramica spaziale” by Lucia Fontana were sold for DM580,000 (£190,000; $300,000), as was a pastel “Concetto spaziale” (DM950,000; £311,000; $510,000), all bought by a private collector. Private collectors also bought seven works of art from Gmurzynska’s stand. One piece, Picasso’s sculpture “Femme se coiffante” fetched DM550,000 (£180,000; $295,000). A museum curator showed interest in the most expensive work, Yves Klein’s “ANT 68” (£2.1 million; $3.5 million). Gmurzynska has sold two works by Klein to museums in previous years: one is now at the Guggenheim in Bilbao. But two pieces of museum quality and dimensions—Andy Warhol’s “Oxidation painting” (DM2.7 million; £900,000; $1.5 million) at Anthony d’Offay and a triptych by Tapies (DM780,000; £256,000; $420,000) at Galerie Lelong—had not been sold by the end of the week. Annely Juda sold Malevich’s “Gouache head” for DM185,000; (£60,000; $98,000) and reported sales of works by Matisse, Nash and Suetin to private collectors, saying that Art Cologne was better than Arco in Madrid or Fiac in Paris.

A number of dealers paid homage to the artist Emil Schumacher, whose recent death elevated him, at least temporarily, into the league of the great. Galerie Utermann displayed a 1964 oil painting by him priced at DM240,000 (£79,000; $130,000) and Galerie Rieder his important 1962 work “Rot” for DM880,000 (£289,000; $474,000).

Changes from last year were more evident with the less established dealers on the ground floor . Most of the fourteen avant-garde galleries invited this year, as well as many of the twenty-five sponsored young emerging artists, showed cutting-edge works of art. Photographic works and cyberart were particularly in evidence at Heidi Reckermann Photographie, Lipanje Puntin Artecontemporanea, Murray Guy and Marco Noire Contemporary Art.

Nonetheless, dealers unanimously remarked on the decline in the number of video installations compared to previous years, usually citing the cause as the difficulty of selling such work.

The ground floor was dominated by monumental works of sculpture, a section created a year ago because it was felt that sculpture had been too long neglected. Twenty-eight galleries from nine countries presented solo exhibitions. The most impressive pieces were a gigantic iron spiral by Bernar Venet (Karsten Greve) and two enormous beaks by Magdalena Abakanowicz (Marlborough).

Sarah Lucas, who was making penis sculptures from tin cans and had been working on site at Sadie Coles HQ all week, remarked that the fair was “a lot less boring” than she had expected. She had found it worthwhile because more people saw her work and she could gauge their reactions.

As always the Cologne fair attracted collectors and curators from the Rhineland, the rest of Germany and the surrounding countries. This year, however, few curators from the US were seen, even though Cologne is trying to attract the New York art scene to the fair. Few dealers felt that Berlin Art Forum was serious competition. Nicola Von Senger of Ars Futura commented: “Three years ago there was a big movement to Berlin, but there is no longer any threat.” However, familiar criticisms concerning the length and timing of Art Cologne were voiced by Polly Robinson, director of Anthony d’Offay gallery: “It is a week before the large contemporary sales in New York so people are holding their breath and they aren’t committing to any major acquisitions at this time.”

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Established fair experiments'