“LIEBE DEINE STADT”: THE RESURRECTION OF COLOGNE
published in (H)Art, summer 2009, and online: kunsthart.org/en/16/60/%E2%80%9Cliebe-deine-stadt%E2%80%9D-the-resurrection-of-cologne.aspx
As a former citizen of Cologne now living in Berlin, it is a pleasure to note that it is beyond the scope of this article to list all new projects, galleries and spaces in Cologne. So much is presently going on in this city. Although obviously not as hip and exciting as Berlin (but which city is?), Cologne instead "provides structures which have grown over a long time, many art collectors and the neighbourhood to the Benelux", as Cologne gallerist Marion Scharmann summarizes. She founded an art space in her flat in 2005 and has now established herself with an ambitious programme in her new gallery space in Schaafenstrasse, right in the centre of the city.
Only a year ago, the mood among Cologne's art people was at its worst. Since the nineties artists kept on migrating in hordes from Cologne to Berlin, and shortly after that the gallerists followed. The municipal cultural policy was infuriatingly careless and resulted, amongst other things, in the demolition of an urgently needed Kunsthalle. And, with the founding of Art Forum Berlin, Art Cologne, the ‘mother of all art fairs', lost its leading role and had to put up with being considered as rather unimportant.
But a few years ago the worst seemed over, the artist migration decreased, the scene consolidated again, a collective spirit of entrepreneur ship was roused again. Gallerists, curators and artists remembered the strengths of the city on the river Rhine which, after all, can boast of a long tradition of contemporary art and in the eighties was considered as the place-to-be where artists like Martin Kippenberger, Rosemarie Trockel, Jürgen Klauke or Gerhard Richter gathered. People wanted to reawaken the energies of those times, and indeed, despite all adversities new galleries were founded - Marion Scharmann and Figge von Rosen (who represents the Belgian painter Koen van den Broek among others) belong to this wave. Also the initiative ‘European Kunsthalle', provisionally based at the Ebertplatz - possibly the ugliest of all places in Cologne (and in Cologne there are many of these) - goes back to this time of reawakening.
But another wave of emigration followed (or maybe the first never stopped?), and this time not only artists and independent culture workers left but also the top dogs of Cologne's gallery scene: over the years galleries such as Jablonka, Gisela Capitain, Michael Janssen, BQ, Christian Nagel, Sprüth Magers have completely or partly moved to Berlin. It goes without saying that this not only meant damage to Cologne art market but was also an alarming signal for many who remained in the city. Eventually, one felt forced to move the traditional art fair date from the autumn to April in order to avoid direct competition with Berlin: Art Forum Berlin started to attract many collectors from abroad who did want not come back for Art Cologne a few weeks later.
All attempts to team up and to initiate something seemed only to lead to quarrels between individuals and, eventually, to nothing. "We have reached rock bottom", stated Cologne gallerist Linn Lühn (the gallery opened in 2001 as Jablonka/Lühn, and is now independent) at that time. Thereby expressing, despite all frustration, the hope that from now on everything could only get better.
And indeed, since mid-2008, the atmosphere in the Cologne art scene has noticeably changed. Everywhere in the city cultural life seems to regain strength, and something of the old self-confidence seems to come back. Given that so many established and structurally important galleries left the city this new confidence might be surprising. Yet, probably, this massive exodus actually flipped the switch and finally caused some action. "It is as if someone had removed the lid from the pot", says gallerist Philipp Figge. Everything started to stream out what was dammed up for years. Things are now done by the next generation, mainly people between 30 and 40, who are relieved that they are finally able to have a significant impact.
"In Cologne, you do not only find a particularly fortunate constellation of people who are passionate on art but also an outstandingly great dynamic to actively fill and form the now ‘vacant' places and positions. Kölln - yes!", jubilates artist and curator Charlotte Desaga who has just opened her gallery in the Maybachstrasse, close to Bar Ornella and the also newly-opened Galerie Warhus Rittershaus - a new gallery district seems to be on the map.
"In our view, time could not be better to start something new in Cologne", confirms colleague Luisa Rittershaus, "since so many well-known galleries have moved to Berlin, Cologne just calls out for new positions. Now is the time and space for Rock 'n' Roll, and we are looking forward to it!" Her partner, the art historian Alexander Warhus, a student of Albert Oehlen, aims to focus on young artists from the Düsseldorfer Kunstakademie and its surroundings. Their gallery Warhus Rittershaus has just opened with a group show (with Morgan Betz from Amsterdam, Andreas Breunig, Yugi Nagai, René Spitzer and Martin Weidemann).
In the eighties, the district Südstadt was the centre of the art and gallery scene. During the nineties the art scene shifted closer to the city centre, to the Belgisches Viertel. Here, one still finds most of the galleries (e.g. the young galleries Clages, Sebastian Brandl, Figge von Rosen, but also the more established Nagel, Rehbein and Wiesehöfer). Daniel Buchholz, firm as a rock, is not far, either. Yet, one can see a further shift up north where already a couple of years ago the gallery house ‘ads 1a' was established with galleries such as Luis Campana and Mikro Mayer. "Cologne's north is currently becoming a very interesting area with many new project spaces and galleries. A young audience is attracted and our openings are very well-attended", say Ulrike Jagla-Blankenburg and Tom Lingnau from Jagla, an exhibition and project space at Hansaring that focuses on contemporary painting, drawing and sculpture by international as well as by regional artists. The connection to Cologne's Kunsthochschule für Medien and the Art Academy in Düsseldorf is particularly important for the initiators of Jagla. - It is notable that all start-ups emphasize local and regional relations: the scene reflects on its strengths and aims to consolidate them.
"When I came to Cologne, I had no idea that there even existed young galleries", says Daniel Hug, since 2008 director of Art Cologne whose last edition seemed to be as optimistic and fresh as so many other initiatives in the city at the moment, "and then I learnt that there was actually a whole series of them." This led to Hug's initiative ‘Cologne Contemporaries', an union of eight galleries (besides the already mentioned, Julia Garnatz, Teapot, Christian Lethert and Lutz Becker) who invited people to a well-perceived open weekend in November 2008. They will repeat it this autumn, supplemented by the new project space by Frankfurt gallerist Eva Winkeler (oh yes - they are now even coming back to Cologne from outside the city!), the just founded gallery Schmidt & Handrup, the space ‘Drei - Raum für Gegenwartskunst' and ‘Projects in art and theory' - the last one possibly the most exciting project in Cologne. Founded 2007 by the Cologne-based art historians and curators Lilian Haberer and Regina Barunke and funded by the city of Cologne, ‘Projects in art and theory' provides a place "where in Germany still widely-unknown international artists and young art scholars from German-speaking countries have the opportunity to present their projects to a wider audience." Thus, ‘Projects in art and theory' forms a place for discourse and discussions which Cologne urgently needed and which has been quickly established as meeting point for artists and all kind of people engaged in the cultural sector.
Next to all these initiatives by the younger generation, the ‘old hands' are still as active and inventive as ever. In April 2009, gallerists Christian Nagel and Thomas Rehbein founded the ‘Temporary Gallery Cologne' in the center of the city, close to the Belgisches Viertel and the Kölnischer Kunstverein. The ‘Temporary Gallery Cologne' can be rented by gallerists and curators from outside who can in this way present their programme in different surroundings to the lively and well-heeled art collectors crowd of the region. The Breeder (Athens) and Galerist (Istanbul) were the first to use this interesting concept. Projects like this show that Cologne is not only concentrating on its local qualities but is also open and receptive to new international impulses of all kind.
Anyway, ‘open' seems to be the new keyword. And so something became possible that has been unthinkable for decades: Cologne and Düsseldorf, the two neighbouring cities that are traditionally sceptical about each other, finally realized that they have to combine their forces. This insight was not only visible in this year's Art Cologne's supporting programme which listed exhibitions and events in the whole ‘Rheinschiene', but also in the ‘Düsseldorf Cologne Open' that just took place the first weekend of September - more than 80 galleries in both cities invited to a gallery weekend, with parties, shuttle bus and all. If this was not Rock ‘n' Roll, it was certainly the right move at the right time.