artothek - Raum für junge Kunst
Affiliated with the Culture Department of the City of Cologne since May 2008, the artothek is seated in a 15th century, late Gothic town house, just to the south of the Cologne Cathedral, in the immediate vicinity of Cologne's major museums. In addition to its functions as lending service for contemporary art and source of information, in particular, on the Cologne art scene, the space for young art offers a location for exhibitions of Cologne artists as well as international guests. The main objective is to support and make public the work of young artists.
Since 1973 the artothek has offered visitors the opportunity to borrow works of contemporary art. Unlike a brief encounter at an exhibition, this approach gives art lovers the opportunity to experience the quality and message of a work of art as it evolves over a certain period of time at their place of work or in their homes. The collection of the artothek contains works of art of different styles and techniques by international artists as well as those from Cologne.
The artothek provides addresses of studios, galleries and other venues, as well as information to guide in the selection of artworks which may be borrowed. Its archives serve as a public source of information on the Cologne art scene.
Alongside the museums, galleries, and independent initiatives in Cologne, the artothek provides an exhibition space which offers artists the opportunity to experiment. Its objective is to show all fields of contemporary art by international and local artists - from painting, drawing, sculpture and photography to installation works and performances.
The artothek provides visitors with the opportunity to borrow contemporary art and gives them information above all on the Cologne art scene. It is also a venue for exhibitions devoted to local and international artists. Its objective is the support and dissemination of contemporary art.
1973 until today
It all began as an experiment. It was a time of innovation in the field of culture. People spoke of democratizing art. Access would no longer be restricted to a small elitist group of initiates. This innovative mood could also be felt in Cologne. More and more artists moved to Cologne to work here and to exchange their views with other artists. More and more art galleries opted for Cologne. Some artists explained the fascination with Cologne based on the fact that behind the rather plain facades they found exactly the atmosphere they needed to develop ideas and to realize unusual art projects. It was precisely this unpretentious character of the city and its tolerant atmosphere which seemed to open up possibilities for creativity.
It was in those days that Horst-Johannes Tümmers, art historian and director of the public library, came up with the bold idea of lending not only books, but also contemporary art. He found an ideal venue for the artothek in a 15th century late gothic town house in the center of Cologne. His project was modeled on similar institutions in London and Berlin. From the outset, he emphasized the importance of collaborating with the Kölnischer Kunstverein and the Museum Ludwig. Communication with local art galleries and artists in their studios was also seen as vital. Cologne, above all places, offered the opportunity and necessity to keep in close contact with the art scene so that the project would continuously be inspired and shaped by artists. One objective of the artothek was to provide a view of international art so that the public could profit from a wide cross section of contemporary art. Another objective was to contribute to the support of young artists.
But why should people hang a painting at home only to return it to the artothek a few weeks later? The artothek regards its service as providing an opportunity to live with a work of art for a limited period of time, to experience its qualities, or to reject it, without having to buy it. This approach which does not require immediate commitment is an invitation to experiment and can also appeal to people who would otherwise be reluctant to visit art galleries. Thanks to this concept, art has become a natural part of many people's lives. Some of them have become collectors of contemporary art.
Naturally, the artothek provides information on the artists whose works of art are part of the collection and, independent of this, informs the public about the Cologne art scene. This includes information about artists, galleries, museums, and other exhibition spaces. The artothek also communicates sales and contact interest. The local press is scanned for art reviews and invitations on a daily basis in order to compile an archive which has been used as a basis for producing a work of reference and address book of Cologne artists in cooperation with other institutions. The fifth edition of the Cologne artist's address book has recently been revised by the national artists' guild, Berufsverband Bildender Künstler.
Soon after the founding of the artothek, its exhibition program was launched. Initially, exhibitions were staged on a small scale on the mezzanine floor. The works of art which could be borrowed were displayed on the lower floor. It was the artist Marlini Wickramasinha, in 1977, who came up with the idea of using the entire space of the artothek for exhibitions. She wanted her large-scale paintings - which are impressive and at the same time oppressive - that she produced in her kitchen to be looked at from a sufficient distance. To begin with, she wanted to view them in this way herself. The effect was most convincing. The whole room, with its high ceiling and curved gallery, was ideally suited for exhibitions.
The exhibitions do not follow a fixed curatorial concept. They range from painting, drawing, sculpture, and photography to video installations, performance, and projects dealing with spatial dimensions. Initially, the exhibitions were devoted to artists from Cologne. Later, international artists also began to regularly exhibit their works at the artothek. A jury ensures continuity and quality. Among the members of the jury are curators from Museum Ludwig, Kölnischer Kunstverein, and KOLUMBA. This has enabled the artothek to give the exhibition program its own neutral profile with the effect that even artists of international renown have taken the opportunity of exhibiting a selection of their works at the artothek. Among the many, there are well-known names such as Mechtild Frisch, Horst Münch, Jürgen Klauke, Norbert Prangenberg, Ulrike Rosenbach, Alf Schuler, Hann Trier, Elisabeth Vary and Dorothee von Windheim. In this context, the exhibited works of younger, lesser known artists receive notice as well. For many of them, it has marked the beginning of their artistic career and some have since been offered teaching opportunities at universities and art academies.
As a rule, the artists stage their exhibitions themselves. This often involves considerable costs for them in terms of time and money. As far as possible, the artothek avoids exerting any influence on the selection and presentation of the works. It provides invitations, press contacts, and insurance while communicating with the galleries concerned about prospective buyers. Unlike art galleries, the artothek offers artists the opportunity to realize projects without having to consider commercial aspects. Over the course of time, many unusual, bold presentations have been created as a result.
In 1977, one of the early exhibitions, particularly impressive in retrospect, presented works by C.O. Paeffgen. From the outset, viewers were charmed by the drawing of a small flower on the invitation card. The artist gave the exhibition room a poetic, playful atmosphere using bizarre objects, some of them objets trouvés, such as an enormous gray, heart-shaped work involving cobble stones on a gray ground, a tear made of metal fixed to a post for street signs, pink straw objects on a wall with wire twisted around them, and a number of works highly characteristic for the artist, strongly contoured paintings based on photographs.
In early 1981 Cologne's Neue Wilde, the Mülheimer Freiheit, painted the walls and ceilings of the artothek turning the building itself into an artwork. Among the members of the group who had a studio in the Cologne district of Mülheim were Hans-Peter Adamski, Peter Bömmels, Walter Dahn, Jiri Georg Dokoupil, Gerard Kever, and Gerhard Naschberger. Karel Rösel, a guest of the group, cut a larger-than-life elephant into the plaster of the wall. The artists created a cryptic web of vitriolic, critical, and disrespectful comments on recent art history.
"Bad painting", wrote the critics. The exhibition was, however, a huge success and the art scene of the following years was dominated by painting in a wild and rebellious style.
Measuring 7 meters in width and hung diagonally in the room, Astrid Klein's photographic installation from 1982 transgressed all architectural boundaries. It showed the black shadows of dogs jumping in front of a wall - in pursuit of prey or possibly in flight. The figure of one of the dogs appeared again, fully restrained, at either end of one of the walls. This exhibition, a spatial installation and at the same time a photographic work, was of unforgettable, suggestive power.
On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the artothek, in 1983, the American sculptor, James Reineking exhibited two massive floor pieces made of the steel used in ship building. Alongside these, he cut and furled delicate pen and watercolor drawings. Despite the contrasting nature of these objects, a subtle correspondence occurred.
In 1985, Klaus vom Bruch presented his video installation ‘Wir laufen nicht davon' - ‘We are not running away' - which had been exhibited a year earlier, in the central domed hall, at the Biennale di Venezia. Two life-size human figures, executed in a very simple style, held each other's hands separated by a column. Two monitors, receiving material via aerials, were installed high up on the balcony and played, in overlapping and alternating sequences of pictures and sound, Charlie Chaplin's speech as ‘The Great Dictator', computer icons, the head of the artist behind an aerial in the form of a mask, and re-cut tango sequences creating both an enervating and fascinating attraction.
These examples are intended to illustrate the special quality and, at the same time, the variety of exhibitions at the artothek. In almost all cases, the artists have uniquely explored spatial relationships. For many of them, the unusually curved architecture of the artothek was a challenge. From the upper mezzanine floor, it is possible to look down on exhibits below making the room particularly suitable for performances and other space-related works.
An exhibition by Jacob Altmeyer entirely limited visitors to their acoustic perception. There was really nothing to see. Video installations with birdsongs by Maria Vedder or whales' songs by Annebarbe Kau also created quite a stir. The artothek was filled with sand by Jochen Heufelder and, on another occasion, with a huge pool by Heinz Kleine-Klopries. Yet, less extreme works have also found space for contemplation at the artothek. These include paintings by Stephan Baumkötter, Claudia Desgranges, Raimund Girke, Signe Guttormsen, Rosa M Hessling, Dorothee Joachim, Ingo Meller, Frances Scholz, Peter Tollens, Günter Umberg, Ulrich Wellmann, and many others who inspired visitors to explore the subtle world of color.
On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the artothek, in 1993, the marvelous exhibition of color painting by the American, Phil Sims, was overshadowed by the discussion over financial cutbacks and the threatened closure of the artothek. As on previous occasions, an overwhelming wave of support swelled. Eleven years earlier, members of the artists' guild had demonstrated against the impending closure by erecting a wall at the entrance to the artothek. And now, once again, artists and ordinary citizens, museum staff and gallery owners, journalists and art collectors, politicians and civil servants fought for the survival of the artothek. Ruthilde Bürgers, a committed supporter, mobilized her friends under the motto ‘Rettet die artothek' - ‘save the artothek' - and, together with them, she initiated the pressure group ‘Freunde der artothek Köln' e.V. which has since been devoted to supporting the aims and objectives of the artothek.
With the video installation, ‘To call unto those who prey and beg' by the British artist Rick Buckley, in 1995, the artothek celebrated its new organizational relationship with the Kölnisches Stadtmuseum. After a thorough restoration carried out by Birgit Hansen and Stefan Ohlow, the carefully redesigned exhibition room was dominated by three synchronized projections. In one corner of the room, visitors could see a begging bear, on one wall, a finger bidding welcome, and, on the ceiling, a mouth telling a fairy tale. "A great day for art and art lovers", wrote Amine Haase in the local newspaper, Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, on October 26th, 1995.
There have been many special exhibitions in the artothek since that day - paintings from Marcia Hafif, Markus Weggenmann, Winston Roeth, Jerry Zeniuk, Rudolf de Crignis, David Simpson, Erik Saxon, Alfonso Fratteggiani Bianchi, there have been quiet, sensitive presentations from Andreas Karl Schulze, Christiane Löhr, In Ho Baik, Takakazu Takeuchi, Ewa Kulasek, and breathtaking installations from Regine Schumann, Tazro Niscino, Ulli Böhmelmann, Shiro Matsui, Ivan Bazak, the artist, Kalaman, who lives in Cologne, created the ‘WM-Studio', an installation for the FIFA World Cup in Korea and Japan, here, the art community came together to watch soccer, and much, much more. Thanks to the engagement of the ‘Freunde der artothek Köln' e.V., these exhibitions could be documented in yearly catalogs and in the form of this internet platform.
The cooperation of particular galleries, museums, Kunstvereine, cultural institutes, and sponsors has been of special importance in the realization of the exhibitions. In 2005, for the celebration of their 25th year of sponsorship of ‘New Talents', the Koelnmesse founded an art prize to honor the ‘Best of the Best' of their previously carefully selected ‘New Talents', currently called ‘New Positions'. The prize includes an exhibition in the artothek. Not only does this expand the institution's program but it also draws the dealer's attention to the talent of young artists by placing them in the context of more established ones.
None the less, in 2003, the existence of the artothek came under threat for the umpteenth time. And the artists and art lovers protested more strongly than ever by collecting signatures, writing letters, and demonstrating in front of the city hall, to preserve the artothek as a ‘Space for Young Art' in the center of Cologne. After five long years, an affiliation with the Culture Department of the City of Cologne has finally secured the artothek's existence. I wish to thank all those who helped to give a future to the artothek!
Raum für junge Kunst
Tue to Fri 1p.m. to 7 p.m.
Sat 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
closed on Sundays and Mondays
rail service, local trains (S-Bahn): "Hauptbahnhof" (5 min walk)
bus, tram, underground: “Dom/Hauptbahnhof”; (5 min walk)
Am Dom / Philharmonie / Groß St. Martin