Whether you arrive by plane, train or automobile, the journey to discovering Cologne’s art scene usually continues on foot. That would be the analogue way. Or you could fly with Google Earth and land virtually, directly on the roof of the Academy of Media Arts Cologne (KHM). On its flat roof, an oversized QR-code consisting of 1,056 squares has been hand painted in black and white, along with the words “White Ground Black Square” in gigantic letters. The title refers to the famous painting by Kazimir Malevich from 1915 — and of course to the small black and white pixels that nowadays every smartphone feeds hungrily on to digest information. The squares on the roof form an “image”, but also a machine-readable code that takes you to the academy’s website.
Welcome to the digital 21st century, where media art made in Cologne is celebrating international success — and at the same time, just like the rooft op work by Cologne artist Achim Mohné, it is critically questioning the tools, mechanisms and policies of the brave new media world. Established in 1990, the Academy of Media Arts Cologne is the local art academy, training the top young international artists, filmmakers and television directors of tomorrow. Achim Mohné also studied here. As an artist, he is one of the pioneers in the use of the latest technology, which he makes ample use of while cleverly subverting it. Together with Uta Kopp, Mohné initiated the long-term project “remote words” in 2007, which “RW25” (2015), the painting on the roof, is a part of. The artist duo has meanwhile installed messages that are legible only from space on about thirty roofs of cultural institutions around the globe: the XXL letters can be seen by astronauts and gods alike, but also appear on the satellite photos of Google Earth, the global business that is now involuntarily spreading their messages.
But getting back to the analogue reality: today KHM Cologne is the epicentre of the young art scene and its cafeteria is a great place to meet interesting people. Throughout the year there are lectures, film screenings and exhibitions at its art space Glasmoog. Looking at the biographies of the internationally successful younger generation of artists, it becomes apparent that a large number of them spent time at the KHM. Many of these artists not only take advantage of the new digital opportunities, but also like to work within the public space. They deal with the cityscape, intervene in everyday life situations and involve bystanders. Out of the white cube and into real life.
The same goes for other Cologne artists you should keep on your radar, such as Johanna Reich for example. Role models and identity, individual and collective image memory and the media recognition of our daily life are the central themes of the award-winning photo, video and performance artist. Her “Heroines” (2014–2016) series could first be seen on the streets, with posters appearing on 200 advertising columns in Cologne. Where commercial advertising posters were once hung, the faces of young women blended in with their popular heroines from the world of fashion and Hollywood to become hybrid beings. Is it a simulation, hyperreality, illusion or deception? In what kind of world do we live and what images do we see?
“Kunst an Kölner Litfaßsäulen” (Art on Cologne’s advertising columns) is a public space project that a whole series of interesting artists have already taken part in. On a stroll through the city in 2018, you will still discover posters from the recent “COLOURMARKS” project by Rozbeh Asmani on some columns: what looks like a monochrome colour field painting actually turns out to be politically explosive concept work. A short text explains: all of the shades used represent colours that corporations have legally trademarked for themselves — the famous “Milka purple”, “Nivea blue”, the yellow and blue combination of supermarket chain Lidl and many more. For Asmani, this represents a new form of colonisation of intellectual property. The Cologne-based artist, who was born in Iran in 1983, has been dealing with the aesthetics of capitalism in his work for a long time now. In addition to the abstract work group “COLOURMARKS”, he also creates figurative and sculptural artworks: Asmani had a slice of “Zwieback” (rusk) cast in bronze, a crisp packet cast in silicone and he has also created photogravures of patented plant varieties. Political art? Engaged art! Asmani poses socially relevant questions and finds an appropriate aesthetic form for it.
The same applies to Selma Gültoprak. She has already worked in Shanghai, Turkey and Austria on classical exhibitions as well as elaborate projects in public spaces. In her hometown of Cologne, she most recently worked on “St. Open”, a collaboration with artist colleagues in the summer of 2017 that involved putting four repainted bus shelters in Cologne parks. These typical architectural relics from the seventies have long since disappeared from the cityscape. But no bus stopped at these ones, instead they could be used for something new such as chilling, listening to music, picnicking or meeting people.
Artists like Selma Gültoprak work at the interface between art and audience and ensure that the people of Cologne can also experience artworks or temporary artistic interventions beyond the designated locations like museums, galleries and off -spaces. Ebertplatz, a brutalist- style public square, is also a spot that concentrates on the appropriation and invigoration of public space and is a real hotspot for the young art scene. It is home to four art spaces for an ambitious art and music programme, including joint parties and the occasional activity in the middle of the square. But be sure to check it out soon as the days of this hip under- ground spot are numbered: the city wants to completely remodel the square. Citizens and artists are protesting in the form of increased activity and solidarity actions. But who knows what the future will bring?
There is plenty of art to be seen where you would expect it too. Cologne’s gallery scene is wonderfully diverse. There are institutions with a long history that are always worth a visit: for contemporary classics, Karsten Greve close to the Kolumba Museum is a good call, with Louise Bourgeois, Cy Twombly and Jannis Kounellis represented. Just a few hundred metres away, Buchholz exhibits international high-end art of all genres and you will find all the big names there: Isa GenzkenTomma Abts, Anne Imhof, Kai Althoff , Dan Vo... Other top addresses can be found just a five-minute walk away. On St. Apern-Strasse, gallery owner Gisela Capitain maintains the estate of painter Martin Kippenberger and also has an exciting programme of great female artists such as Karla Black, Anna Gaskell, Zoe Leonhard, Monika Sosnowska and Kelley Walker. Across the road from the Walther König bookstore, the top address for all art book addicts, you will find what is probably Cologne’s smallest showroom: Zero Fold, although strictly speaking it is more of a walk-in storefront. Exhibitions are held here, CD and book releases are celebrated and a temporary bar is simply set up on the pavement for events.
More galleries are concentrated around the Belgian quarter, the trendy area around Aachener Strasse with its bars, cafés and restaurants. I recommend Thomas Rehbein, Philipp von Rosen, Natalie Hug, Martinetz and also Galerie Delmes & Zander, established in 1988 and specialising in Art Brut and Outsider Art. Susanne Zander did pioneering work in this field, and now, together with her partner Nicole Delmes, the proven expert is presenting a programme that explores the outer limits of art. Exhibitions such as “Evidence of Ecstasy” or “The Erotic Outsider” addressed the issue of pseudo sciences, occult and erotica, introducing material by anonymous artists alongside well-known names like Horst Ademeit. And one of the most interesting up-and-coming galleries is also not far from here: Jan Kaps. His uncompromising line-up is characterised by minimalism, consistency and the fact he doesn’t fear unwieldiness. This approach has helped Kaps make it to the Art Cologne, as well as to art fairs in London and New York. One of the artists he showed in his first year of running the gallery, in 2013, soon became a shooting star: Cologne painter David Ostrowski. “A Show About Painting” was the title of his joint show with Michail Pirgelis at Kaps. A flat rectangular segment of aeroplane was juxtaposed in each case with a large canvas by Ostrowski. On each canvas, a seemingly nonchalantly placed coloured line could be seen next to traces of dirt, oil, varnish, lots of white space and nothing else. Total rejection? Nouveau minimal painting for hard times? But then you can also sense a beauty that is indescribable, mundane and puzzling. Ostrowski has maintained this distinctive style to this day. Apparently, his pictures are already commanding prices of up to $200,000 — and the name Ostrowski is associated with one of the biggest art market hypes in recent years.
Incidentally, Cologne has Davis Ostrowski and Michail Pirgelis to thank for one of its coolest and most charming bars. In 2015 the pair opened the MD Bar in a former cobbler’s workshop between Rudolfplatz and Neumarkt, named aft er none other than the charismatic actor Michael Douglas. Ice cubes clink against each other in thick crystal glasses and “the wooden interior battles against the purest gin there is”, as one gallery owner rejoiced. You can hang out here until well into the early hours. And as a bonus — of course — you can also admire the excellent art: work by Ostrowski and Pirgelis as well as Richard Artschwager, Fischli & Weiss and Sophie von Hellermann have hung on these walls. Sometimes, for a few hours, everything seems right with the world. One last drink… to Michael Douglas and to art!
10 COLOGNE ARTISTS TO DISCOVER
Selma Gültoprak, selma-gueltoprak.com
Gültoprak Rozbeh Asmani, rozbehasmani.de
Johanna Reich, johannareich.com
Achim Mohné, remotewords.net
Julia Bünnagel Bünnagel, juliabuennagel.de
Peter Schloss, peter-schloss.de
Frauke Dannert, frauke-dannert.de
Dan Dryer Dryer, dan-dryer.de
Sebastian Freytag Freytag, sebastianfreytag.de
Olga Jakob Jakob, olgajakob.de
TOP 10 GALLERIES
Capitain: Sankt-Apern-Str. 20, 50667 Cologne, galeriecapitain.de
Buchholz: Neven-Du Mont-Str. 17, 50667 Cologne, galeriebuchholz.de
Jan Kaps: Jülicher Strasse 24a, 50674 Cologne, jan-kaps.com
Anke Schmidt: Schönhauser Str. 8, 50968 Cologne, galerieankeschmidt.de
Philipp von Rosen: Aachener Str. 65, 50674 Cologne, philippvonrosen.com
Thomas Rehbein: Aachener Str. 5, 50674 Cologne, rehbein-galerie.de
DREI: Arndtstr. 4, 50676 Cologne, drei.cologne
Priska Pasquer: Albertusstr. 18, 50667 Cologne, priskapasquer.art
Delmes & Zander: Lindenstr. 20–22, 50674 Cologne, delmes-zander.de
MD Bar, Marsilstein 21-23, 50676 Cologne, facebook.com/mdbarcologne
Salon Schmitz, Aachener Str. 28, 50674 Cologne, salonschmitz.com
Hotel Chelsea / Café Central, The city’s artist hotel oozes history and is where Kippenberger traded pictures for drinks or a bed for the night. You can even still book the famous Kippenberger suite to this day. Works by Rosemarie Trockel or Albert Oehlen hang in the rooms. The adjoining Café Central is also friendly, unpretentious and has a terrace. Jülicher Str. 1, 50674 Cologne, hotel-chelsea.de
ART IN COLOGNE
museenkoeln.de, Listings of all city museums.
koelngalerien.de, Listings of Cologne galleries.
aic.cologne, The independent scene’s preferred medium: the website of the network Art Initiatives Cologne e.V., including a map, list and programme of free art spaces, art initiatives and festivals.
koelnischerkunstverein.de, One of the oldest and most prestigious art associations in Germany inside the beautifully refurbished “Die Brücke” building by architect Wilhelm Riphahn.
khm.de, Academy of Media Arts Cologne, a hotbed for upcoming artists, filmmakers and TV producers.
academycologne.org, Art platform and showroom, hotspot for current discussions on migration, left-wing theory and post-colonialism.
temporarygallery.org, The “Cologne Centre for Contemporary Art” offers an ambitious international programme of exhibitions, screenings and talks
cityleaks-festival.com / artrmx.com, Urban art and street art festival Cityleaks takes place every two years; the next one will be held in 2019.
Voggenreiter.com, The home of the “Passagen” Interior Design Week: a progressive design festival. Next edition of Passagen: 14-20 January 2019.
buchhandlung-walther-koenig.de, A world-renowned art bookstore in the city centre — the brain and memory of art history and current discourses and a meeting place for art aficionados from all over the world
artblogcologne.com, A blog from and about Cologne of an international standard — make sure you check it out.
museumsnacht-koeln.de, With 45 participating venues and 200 events, this is one of the biggest museum nights in Germany: speed dating with the great masters, ambient sounds, readings, performances and guided tours until 2:00 am. 19th Cologne Night of Museums: 3 November 2018
(by Melanie Weidemüller)