By Nate Freeman
Installation view of Sies + Höke’s booth at Art Cologne, 2018. Courtesy of Art Cologne.
Just past the entrance to this year’s edition of Art Cologne was a special mini-exhibition called “The Koln Show,” which consisted of photos of the city’s gallery scene in the early 1990s—openings and after-parties and youthful versions of the prominent Cologne dealers and artists who would later dominate the art market: David Zwirner, Monika Sprüth, Daniel Buchholz, Wolfgang Tillmans, Albert Oehlen, and many others. The snapshots heightened Cologne’s mythological status as an avant-garde mecca, and underscored the city’s ongoing importance in the art market today.
Many of these figures appeared not just in the mini-exhibition, but also at Art Cologne itself, a testimony to how the long-standing relationships between the city’s dealers and its clients allow this fair to thrive when it focuses on its beating heart: the local visitors from the Rhineland. The fair, which closed its 52nd edition on Sunday, featured booths by 210 galleries from 33 countries and drew 55,000 visitors, many of whom were the high-earning professionals who have been largely forgotten by galleries mostly interested in catching billionaire collecting “whales.”
“The bulk of collectors in Germany, our bread and butter, is a lot of professionals, like well-to-do dentists and lawyers and doctors, who buy a few artworks per year and spend maybe €150,000,” said Daniel Hug, who has been director of Art Cologne, the world’s oldest contemporary art fair, since 2008. “It’s not glamorous, but if you have a thousand of these guys, that’s buying power.”
Hug estimated the visitor base to the sprawling Koelnmesse expo center was around 80 percent German and 20 percent international. “It’s our national fair,” he added.
Of any nation in which to sell art, Germany is an excellent choice. While the U.K. still accounts for the bulk of art sales in Europe (according to “The Art Market | 2018,” released in March by UBS and Art Basel), Germany is the wealthiest nation in the European Union. The country’s economy grew by 0.06 percent in the last quarter of 2017, helping support its robust contemporary art infrastructure of Kunsthalles and museums fostering a culture of widespread art appreciation.
In the German market, Hug said, “art still plays a role for normal people, and it’s not just a playground for the one-percent, the elites.”……………..