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Art Cologne 2017: an Interview with Fair Director Daniel Hug

1 month ago

On the occasion of the opening of the 51st edition of Art Cologne, we interviewed fair director Daniel Hug to share with us the news of this year edition and to tell us about the German art scene and market. This year 200 globally renowned galleries will show works by around 2,000 artists.

Carla Ingrasciotta: Let’s start from the origins. How did everything begin? How was the art scene in the city by that time and how did it evolve from there?

Daniel Hug: Art Cologne was started by two galleries – Hein Stünke from Galerie Der Spiegel and Rudolf Zwirner from his namesake gallery. Stünke and Zwirner took their Inspiration from the 1966 Dokumenta, and figured why shouldn’t they organize a huge exhibition on this scale, but with the purpose of selling Art. And so the first Kunstmarkt Köln as it was called then opened in 1967 in the Guerzenich Festival Hall. From this moment on the whole art market changed as we know it. Today there are hundreds of art fairs worldwide.

C.I.: What about your role as fair director? The event is under your direction since 2008. How do you manage the overall organization?

D.H.: I have a great team like Birgitt Schnitzius and Claudia Wendel who are in charge of gallery relations, also Bettina Vonderreck and Claudia Born who are in charge of our visitors program.‎ Most importantly Benjamin Agert, our fair manager, who basically ensures that the fair comes together smoothly, gets built on time, and many others I cannot all list here.

C.I: Which are the moments that marked the fair’s more recent history?

D.H.: When my predecessor introduced the sector “Open Space” and in 2007 when he recreated the famous Kounellis Installation “12 Horses”, with twelve live Horses inside the fair.‎ In 2010, the solo show of the Belgian artist Panamarenko, our collaboration with New York’s New Art Dealers Alliance which began in 2010 and lasted until 2015, the ” Bookmarks” exhibition of Hungarian Avant Garde to post-conceptual Art from 1967 to Today in 2015, the coming cooperation and founding of the new Art Berlin fair this coming September.

C.I:. This year Art Cologne is enriched by a a young contemporary art section “Neumarkt”. Could you tell us about the new concept of this edition?

D.H.: Until last year, we have had a sector for young galleries called New Contemporaries, and a sector for curated and joint gallery projects called Collaborations, and we wanted to offer a third option to young galleries to present a solo artist presentation in slightly smaller booths, to create a new name for this new sector would have made everything much more confusing, so we decided to rebrand the entire third floor of the fair, and have all these various sectors in one hall under this new name “Neumarkt”.‎ Neumarkt will offer every possible options, combinations and configurations of booths for young galleries, it will make it possible for galleries to really customize their booths, taylor the booths to their specific needs.

C.I: This year, the fair is taking place in concomitance to the Gallery Weekend Berlin. Berlin is also inaugurating the new Art Berlin fair this September and the city has a strong influence in the art scene. Do you think that this may affect the fair’s audience attendance or damage the market in some way?

D.H.: That Art Cologne and Gallery Weekend Berlin overlap two days has turned out to be a blessing in disguise, it has attracted a lot more visitors from abroad to Germany to see the two most important events concerning the German art market. The new Art Berlin is being organized by us, Art Cologne, and the organizers of the Gallery Weekend and will improve the preexisting abc fair, into a more substantial art fair in fall for Germany. This will only strengthen both Cologne and Berlin’s roles as Germany’s most important art centers.

C.I: Opening its 51st edition, Art Cologne is the oldest international art fair and has a strong background. How does the fair changed during the years and how differs from the other fairs? What are your hopes and expectations after this edition?

D.H.: Nine years ago, when I started in Cologne, the Art Cologne was an undefined white elephant, important galleries were missing, and it was spread out over four halls, everything was mixed together, it was hard to navigate. As inspiration, I looked at what Art Cologne was like in the decade from 1985 to 1995, the highpoint of Art Cologne when it was the most important fair for contemporary art world wide. The fair you see today, is very much like it was in this important time: A dynamic mix of established and young galleries, International and German covering art of the 20th and 21st century. All other art fairs are based on this model established in Cologne in 1967, so my job was really just to refine the quality, reduce the size, move into a more suitable hall reminiscent to the old halls from that time. Art Cologne is really the classic and original model Art Fair. We do not need to reinvent this, but continue in this tradition.

Daniel Hug is the leading director of Art Cologne since 2008. Born in 1968, has Swiss-American dual citizenship and has lived most recently in Los Angeles. Notably, he is the grandson of the famous Hungarian constructivist and Bauhaus artist László Moholy-Nagy. Having studied art history at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, he curated a number of exhibitions between 1998 and 2001 in project rooms and art venues. During this period, he took part as a gallery director in events including Liste Basel, Art Forum Berlin and Art Chicago.

Carla Ingrasciotta

  • Time Drifts Cologne © Philipp Geist / VG Bildkunst 2016 Time Drifts Cologne © Philipp Geist / VG Bildkunst 2016
  • Daniel Hug, Art Cologne Fair Director Daniel Hug, Art Cologne Fair Director