Art Cologne is the city’s foremost event for artists and art aficionados; in 2018 it runs from 19 April to 22 April and is celebrating its 52nd anniversary. Cologne has a reputation for competing with the biggest international art capitals and is home to nearly 40 museums and over 100 galleries. You can find every kind of art expression in the city, from classic modern and post-war to contemporary and youth-driven street art as well as intellectual abstract modern works and post-modern pieces. The city attracts both new and established artists. ‘There is a considerable emerging art scene here, really challenging our preconceptions of what art is,’ says Daniel Hug, director of Art Cologne.
Cologne is widely considered the cultural centre of the Rhineland region and beyond. It rose to prominence in the art world in the second half of the 20th century and was instrumental in establishing a strong art scene across the Germany. Hug explains that the city gradually became a cultural hub thanks to support from across Germany. ‘Through the heroic efforts of a few artists and seminal galleries like Springer, Van de Loo and Galerie Der Spiegel, a new scene emerged, and in 1967 the first fair for modern and contemporary art was founded in Cologne, which was the forerunner of what is now known as Art Cologne.’
The fair was devised as a venue for galleries showing modern and progressive art. Last year it attracted 250 exhibitors and 60,000 visitors. This year, as the event entered a new half century of existence, a change in format aims to support and promote new galleries and contemporary artists going forward. ‘We introduced a new sector called Neumarkt,’ says Hug. It is, he adds, dedicated to young galleries presenting solo shows, as well as to group presentations and collaborative projects, and each year it will offer a high concentration of cutting-edge pieces from around the entire art world.
If your visit to the city does not coincide with this vibrant art festival, you can still fill your days with cultural pursuits; there’s a wealth of choice. Aside from the many galleries, there is art to discover across the city. Dynamic street-art can be found in neighbourhoods such as Ehrenfeld, the Belgian Quarter, the Kwartier Latäng, the downtown area and Mülheim (Cologne even has its own biannual street-art festival, CityLeaks, every other September – the fourth edition is September 2017).
Or visit the impressive cathedral, Kölner Dom, which has the biggest facade of any church in the world, is the largest gothic church in northern Europe and has a stained glass collection not to be missed. Cologne’s sculpture park, also the largest in northern Europe, is widely considered one of the world’s best and is a wonderful place to explore, with its collection changing every two years.
If you fancy a day or two of gallery hopping, then Cologne’s compact layout and the availability of a citywide museum pass make it easy to do. Daniel Hug thinks that both Michael Werner and Karsten Greve galleries should be on your list. ‘These are institutions, and they were instrumental in creating a market in the Rhineland,’ he says.
Another must-see in Cologne is Museum Ludwig, which has one of the most important collections of 20th-century and 21st-century art in the world, offering everything from Picasso to pop art. In 1990 it staged an African sculpture exhibition which art curator Renate Goldmann suggests was a turning point for Cologne, showing its artistic focus was global.
Art through the ages
For older art, head to Wallraf-Richartz Museum, whose collection of paintings ranges the 13th to the 20th century. Or visit Kolumba art museum, set in the former St Columba church and run by the Archdiocese of Cologne. It contains an impressive collection of religious works.
On a smaller scale, OffArtCologne in the old town is a hidden gem – it is notoriously difficult to find but well worth hunting out for its lively shows of young artists. Among the city’s other much-applauded galleries are Delmes & Zander, which specialises in outsider art and has a thematically diverse collection; Buchholz, which highlights international contemporary art; SSZ Sued, which is a non-profit operation promoting up-and-coming artists; Nagel Draxler, which features modern and revolutionary conceptual art; and Philipp von Rosen, which is renowned for its dynamic approach. In Cologne, as you’ll soon discover, there’s inspiring art at every turn.