Art Cologne: Interview with Director Daniel Hug

Art Cologne is renowned as the world’s oldest art fair for modern and contemporary art. Being only a day away, we zoom in on the 51st edition that brings around 200 commercial galleries together to present works by over 2.000 artists, covering all price segments from well-known blue-chip artists to the newest young and emerging artists. Daniel Hug, director of Art Cologne since 2008, puts into words what we can expect of this year’s edition and where the fair finds itself today. 

Art Director Daniel Hug. Courtesy: Koelnmesse

What can we expect to see at this year’s Art Cologne?
‎An amazing cross section of the current global art market. We have around 200 galleries from 28 countries presenting Fine Art in every category from the 20th and 21st century. From famous Modern and Post-war artists, to established and Blue-chip contemporary positions, to ‎the most cutting edge young and emerging galleries and artists‎. This year, we have a row of new Blue-chip galleries including Gagosian, David Kordansky, White Cube, Hauser + Wirth, Sprüth Magers, David Zwirner, amongst others, Modern and Post-war dealers such as Le Minotaure and Zlotowski from Paris, Thole Rotemund from Frankfurt, Whitestone from Tokyo, and Borzo from Amsterdam. The fair is divided up into three levels, each hall has a specific focus, so it is one of the easiest fairs to navigate. Additionally, there is a stellar program of exhibition openings and tours of the regions museums and institutions, including two new private collections: Philara in Düsseldorf and Haus Mödrath in a suburb of Cologne. There are two Gerhard Richter shows, one at the Museum of New Works by Richter, and another in the Folkwang Museum presenting all of Richter’s editioned works. The Koelnischer Kunstverein opens with Avery Singer during the fair, and we have commissioned the German artist Michael Riedel to create a large-scale installation in the grand entrance hall of the fair.

Impressions from Art Cologne 2016. Sonderschau Deutsche Bank, Halle 11.3. Courtesy: Koelnmesse.

In your opinion, what is it that draws audiences to the art fair?
Art Cologne is unique and takes place only once a year, we are not a franchise fair with offshoots all over the world. The German art market, both in terms of artistic output and number of galleries, is the largest next to the United States, this, combined with the long tradition, has a lot to do with what draws people to Cologne each April. We were the first fair for Modern and Contemporary galleries, established in 1967, three years before Art Basel. Art Cologne also has a long history of introducing new sectors and sections to the fair, such as smaller booths for young galleries, which started back in the 80’s and which has morphed into our newest sector called NEUMARKT, also the concept of collaborating with another fair and offering booths which could be shared by two or more galleries. Our New Positions program, initiated in 1981, about a decade before Art Basel also started the same way. Through such concerted efforts to experiment and tailor booths to the needs of galleries, we have managed to attract a stellar list of the rising new guard of international galleries from New York’s Essex Street, London’s Project Native Informant, to key protagonists of the German art scene like Deborah Schamoni from Munich, Lars Friedrich from Berlin, Max Mayer from Düsseldorf, and Jan Kaps from Cologne.

Impressions from Art Cologne 2016. . Hallendurchblick, Halle 11.3. Courtesy: Koelnmesse

ART COLOGNE provides an excellent platform for the buying and selling of contemporary art. How does the fair seek to inspire art collectors?
We seek to inspire collectors and visitors by keeping the focus on the galleries and the artists presented, as such it is a very traditional fair in terms of format. We add very little celebrity and socialite fluff and treat all collectors equally, and we do not sort out our preview according to wallet size. All VIPs have access to the fair at the same time.

What does the list of galleries participating and the works that they will be presenting reveal about the character and status of the international art scene?
We make a concerted effort in preserving the strong focus on the German art market and this in the context of the global art market makes us unique. We present the global scene from a German perspective.

We make a concerted effort in preserving the strong focus on the German art market and this in the context of the global art market makes us unique. We present the global scene from a German perspective.

What are some of the events and program highlights of 2017 that you are most excited about?
For the first time in over 10 years, we have commissioned a contemporary artist to create a site-specific installation inside the entrance hall of the fair. The artist Michael Riedel will create a work compiled from raw data about the admissions process of Art Cologne this year. We have invited the London-based data editions to curate the Film Cologne, presenting a number of young contemporary artists working in moving image today. Of course, I am most excited about the galleries that were selected to participate this year; the fair will be the best edition yet.

Art Cologne 2016. Stand: Capitain, Halle 11.2. Courtesy: Koelnmesse.

What is your opinion of the current state of the art fair system and its future?
In 1970, there were three international art fairs, today there are supposedly over 200, this is however including every little satellite fair and artist-run fair worldwide. The reality is that the big international fairs are still going strong, from FIAC in France, The Armory Show in New York, Artissima in Italy, Arco in Spain, SP-Arte in Brazil, Expo Chicago etc. What I find interesting is that new formats have developed, from gallery-organized fairs like CHART in Copenhagen, abc in Berlin, or Independent in New York, etc. I estimate that there are actually around 15 to 20 fairs worldwide in this category. Some will end, and others will be born in the near future. Most fairs run into difficulties after 10 to 15 years of existence, people get bored going to the same fair year after year. Fairs like Art Cologne have been through several ups and downs, thus after 50 years it is safe to assume that Art Cologne will just continue for another 50 years. Art fairs are just the most efficient way of experiencing 100 to 150 galleries in a day or two.

How has ART COLOGNE responded and adapted to changes in the market over recent years, and how does it plan to continue remaining relevant?
With over 500 commercial art galleries in Germany, Art Cologne will always be relevant‎ no matter what, the huge number of galleries and artists in Germany are only surpassed by the United States of America. At the same time, we are constantly rethinking sectors for galleries to better suit their needs today, for example our sector Open Space 10 years ago has over the last years evolved to become NADA Cologne, then NADA Collaborations, to today NEUMARKT and NEUMAT Collaborations. The goal here is finding the best and most efficient ways to present young galleries, to reflect their needs and provide a positive and informative fair experience for our visitors.

Impressions from Art Cologne 2016. Stand: Ropac, Halle 11.2. Courtesy: Koelnmesse.

Koelnmesse GmbH
Messeplatz 1
50679 Cologne, Germany