North Rhine-Westphalia is the most industrialized state (Länder) of Germany and the chief industrial region of the country, the Ruhr is located there. Next to the industry and business, thriving arts institutions operate and some very interesting cultural events take place in the area. Its openness attracts galleries, art lovers, but also collectors. And exactly there – precisely in Cologne – one of the oldest and longest running art fair, Art Cologne was held in April. It was the 47th edition of the event, with about 200 galleries invited. Poland was represented by only one gallery – ŻAK | BRANICKA, with its base in Berlin. Asia Żak and Monika Branicka have been tirelessly running the gallery for five years. Its profile is directed at the conceptual and avant-garde art but Polish artists of the younger generation are also on offer.
This year, Żak and Branicka showcased works by Zofia Kulik, one of the representatives of the Polish neo-avant-garde of the 1970s. Using frames from TV, photographs of objects, buildings, rallies, and, what is most important, of a body – its poses and gestures, the artist composes rich, ornamental images. She gives them forms that are strongly marked by the symbols associated with religion and power. Thus, she plays with the iconographic tradition and archetypes converted and transformed by the present-day media. Some of Kulik’s works presented in Cologne: Black square and mandorla, Land-escape, and The Splendor of Myself IV had been shown, e.g. at the Museum Fridericianum and Schloss Wilhelmshöhe during The Documenta 12 in Kassel in 2007.
Just after the fair, Contemporary Lynx had a chance to talk to the gallery owners. Monika Branicka was very enthusiastic, especially because Kulik’s works were very popular and recognizable in the context of her above-mentioned participation in the Documenta. Prices of Kulik’s works ranged from 6,000 to 35,000 EUR. The gallery owner made no attempt to hide that the quality of the fair is improving and that better and better galleries participate. This year they were much better than last year. Moreover, it is noticeable that the fair is slowly regaining its former position.
According to the organizers, galleries were pleased with the positive atmosphere, quality of purchasing and the accompanying interest. “Heavy turnover was reported in all price brackets. A large number of dealers did especially well with work by the younger artists in their stables. The top price was notched up by David Zwirner for a Baselitz painting at $3m, with Thaddaeus Ropac close on his heels, selling a Warhol painting for $1.1m. ‘The calibre’s even better’.”1
Despite the small representation of Polish galleries at the fair, works by Polish artists could be encountered at a number of foreign exhibitors’ stands. Like every year, the Galerie nächst St. Stephan fromVienna presented works by Michał Budny. The Johann König Gallery from Berlin, which has cooperated with Polish artist Alicja Kwade for some time, exhibited her installation The Door.The Galerie Scheffel from Bad Homburg near Frankfurt on the Main displayed, among others, works by Magdalena Abakanowicz.
The Galerie Berinson is also worth noticing. Its owner Hendrik Berinson showed an oil painting by Roman Opałka from 1965. It was quite a curiosity for enthusiasts of Opałka’s art, since the work was not one of his famous “counted” paintings but a monochromatic, abstract painting that actually preceded this most characteristic series. A vintage print depicting Stanisław Ingnacy Witkiewicz (one of the most important figure of the Polish avant-garde, whose innovative experiments rendered great service to painting and photography) also drew a lot of attention. The picture, commissioned by the eccentric artist, was taken by his friend Józef Głogowski in 1931. The gallery owner himself is worthy of note too. He often emphasizes his fascination with the Polish avant-garde and the best prove of it is his collection that includes works by such artists as: Karol Hiller, Roman Opałka, Samuel Szczekacz, Stefan Wegner, already mentioned Witkacy, or Witkacy’s completely unknown friend, Edmund Strążyński.
Unfortunately, The Art Cologne fair is behind us now. Still, it was only an overture before the upcoming, most important art fair in the world, Art Basel!!!
words: Dobromila Blaszczyk
translation: Urszula Płoch-Syhłowyj