The world's leading galleries in Cologne

A conversation with Daniel Hug, the director of Art Cologne

Gallery David Zwirner at Art Cologne
Gallery David Zwirner at Art Cologne
24 APR 2017

This week the 51st Art Cologne takes place. WSI author Ralf Daab spoke with the director Daniel Hug about the art fair, the current art market and the prospects for the future.

Dan, the 51st Art Cologne will be opened tomorrow. How is the mood in the run-up?

The mood is good, also at the galleries. Apparently the overlap with the Gallery Weekend Berlin has a positive effect. We have a lot more registrations from international visitors and I know from the material what the galleries will bring, it will be a good fair. I am very enthusiastic, the selection will be very nice. We have refined and improved some smaller things at the fair, and we have rearranged a few galleries. Yes, I think the mood is very good.

With Gagosian, White Cube, David Kordansky and Daniel Templon this year, other very important galleries are exhibiting at the Art Cologne. Does this lead to the conclusion that the Art Cologne once again ranks among the world's most important art fairs?

Yes of course, I think we are among the top 5 art fairs worldwide. One should not underestimate the German art market with the density of galleries, art associations and institutions. And also the many important artists, who are known world-wide, who come from Germany. The galleries Daniel Templon and White Cube are again represented at the trade fair after 20 years. The world's leading gallery Gagosian will be for the first time at the Art Cologne, which is about time.

How do you assess the current situation in the national and international art market in general? Will top prices be achieved as some years ago?

In the upper segment it is still very good, even in the whole low segment. So at the very young galleries the business runs well and at the very big ones. In Germany it is a bit different than at other trade fairs. With Gagosian, White Cube, David Zwirner, Thaddaeus Ropac, Hauser & Wirth, Michael Werner and SprüthMagers, we have all the important mega-galleries at the fair. I'm happy about that.

You have the impression that art fairs are increasingly becoming events and that "art tourism" has emerged in recent years. Does the Art Cologne also feel that more and more international visitors and top collectors, are coming to Cologne?

Let's see. There are some top collectors who are coming which we look forward to. But most of these mega-galleries are actually at the Art Cologne for contacts to museums, curators and institutions. Compared to other regions, Germany is not the strongest place for mega-sales. Art over one or a few million Euros is not very easy to sell at the Art Cologne. Last year the gallery David Zwirner sold two works by Yayoi Kusama, I believe for 800.000 €. The strength at the Art Cologne is collectors from the middle class, doctors, lawyers and professional people who spend between 50,000 € and 150,000 € for art. We have thousands of them. It will be exciting to see who is coming and if we also reach these 1% top collectors.

Talking about PR and Social Media: Many galleries have a hard time and also established galleries must increasingly see how they reach their collectors, especially new ones. PR and social media are very important in every industry these days. Do galleries need to think and do more in this direction?

Interestingly, Instagram plays a big role, Twitter not so much, so we don’t do Twitter. And we also don’t do Facetime or Whatsapp. We do Facebook and Instagram. Social media plays an important role for the press, for communication, and helps art sales by reaching new collectors. The Internet has a great impact on today's art market in the sense that everything is running much faster. I had a gallery from 1996 to 2008. Until 2000 it was still common that one had to make large 4 x 5 slides from each exhibition and sent them with courier service to the important collectors. That was an investment of about $ 500. Today you do this with email. It costs nothing and is very fast. However, the most important thing remains, that the galleries have their own spaces and also participate in art fairs. At art fairs, collectors and curators have the chance to get to know the gallery owners personally and to find out about new galleries. The sale can then be handled later on the Internet. There are already new developments with 3D and VR, but this still has a minimal effect on the art market. I'm not worried about being pushed out by any virtual reality fair.

With all its international focus, is it not also very important to focus on the regional art scene in order to involve new young galleries and to attract new young collectors and customers?

Yes, exactly. We already have some programs under different names like New Positions, New Contemporaries or Collaborations, and this year we are launching the Neumarkt, where we offer young galleries who are less than 10 years old various solo- and group stands of 20 qm at a reduced price. It simplifies everything, is a bit more streamline and the visitors will understand the difference to the New Positions and Collaborations area better, I hope.

The admission as an exhibitor is determined by an advisory board of 9 gallery owners. Does the board change every year?

There are always a few exchanges, not every year, but every two years. This year, we have three members of the advisory board who decide only on the solo and group stands for young galleries in the Neumarkt. For the Neumarkt Collaborations, we have engaged two curators this year, Moritz Wesseler from Kölnischer Kunstverein and Michelle Cotton from Bonner Kunstverein. As there is no age limit in the collaborations, free curators should decide on admission so that we do not get legal problems. We always have one or two lawsuits every year. But we win those.

The Art.Fair has moved from Cologne to Düsseldorf and starts new in November under the name Art Düsseldorf with the people from Art Basel as partners. Do you see it as a competition for the Art Cologne or rather an enrichment for the art scene in the Rhineland?

It is much. It’s also an honor that the Art Basel suddenly perceives the Rhineland. But the Art Düsseldorf is not really a competition for the Art Cologne, which already exists 50 years. And the Art Düsseldorf did not even take place yet. It’s not easy to estimate it. Of course, if a second art fair is established in the Rhineland, it’s also a danger for the Art Cologne, even if the fairs are separated for 6 months. It’s a long history with Düsseldorf, 1968 there was the Prospekt 68, an art fair founded by the gallery owner Konrad Fischer and the art critic Hans Strelow, which ran for two or three years. From 1974 on, the Kölner Kunstmarkt alternated in Cologne and Düsseldorf under the name Internationaler Kunstmarkt, until the fair only took place in Cologne under the name Art Cologne. In 2007 there was the Düsseldorf Contemporary, which was also organized by Art.Fair founders Walter Gehlen and Andreas Lohaus. The whole thing is hard to comment on. As soon as the fair takes place, we can better assess this. Let’s wait, there are many other art fairs in the world.

How do you see the development for the next 20 years?

I know that the Art Cologne stays. It will run another 50 years. The format stands, you do not have to experiment. We invented the format of an art fair. The Art Cologne was the first and is the oldest art fair for contemporary and modern art worldwide. All the others came after us. The Art Cologne will continue to play an important role within Germany as the leading art fair. We had many highs and lows, ups and downs, which happens with every fair and is unavoidable. But the galleries scene will change. There are many galleries that do not exhibit at art fairs anymore. There are others who don’t have their own spaces anymore. Until 10 years ago it was only Marlborough, who had an empire with many locations. Today the mega-galleries have locations in New York, Los Angeles, Berlin, Paris, Brussels, London, Hong Kong, Switzerland. In a heated market, the big galleries expand like crazy. This can also be reduced if the market weakens. What we have observed in the last 10 to 15 years is when a segment in the art market weakens, another segment is being strengthened. When for example the market for vintage photography crashed, the market for contemporary art went up at the same time. I do not think there's another big crash like 1990. But who knows, I'm not a clairvoyant.

Can you tell us a few highlights we can experience on the 51. Art Cologne this year?

Oh yes, there are some highlights. One of the biggest highlights will be at the Gagosian stand. They show a big installation of the American performance artist Chris Burden. It’s an installation of streetlights from Los Angeles. Chris Burden had discovered a warehouse where these lamps from the 1920s and 1930s were stored. He bought them and placed them in front of the LACMA as a huge installation. There will be a smaller version on the Gagosian stand, which took 10 days to build up. For the first time since I’m director of the Art Cologne, we are doing a large project with the contemporary artist Michael Riedel from Frankfurt. It will be a massive installation in the South Entrance. Uh, another highlight, I am particularly pleased that, for the first time, the galleries Le Minotaure and Zlotowski, two well-known and prestigious art dealers in the segment of classical modernism / post-war art are coming from Paris. And from Germany, Thole Rotermund, also one of the most important German traders for classical modernism, will be at the Art Cologne for the first time. The Modern and Postwar section will be great as well.

Thank you Dan for the very interesting conversation.

Thank you Ralf, my pleasure.

Interview by Ralf Daab