In 1973, Horst-Johannes Tümmers, art historian and director of the municipal library, had the idea of creating a place that would allow people to borrow contemporary art just like books from a library. "Haus Saaleck", a 15th century late Gothic patrician's house in the town centre seemed the ideal venue for his "artothek". International art has been part of the artothek’s collection from the start. At the same time, the artothek has contributed to the support of contemporary art and has also cooperated with the increasing number of galleries and artists.
The artothek offers the opportunity to borrow works of contemporary art. Unlike brief encounters within the framework of an exhibition, a work is given the chance to unfold its unique quality and message over a certain period of time in people’s own homes or place of work. In addition, the artothek provides information on the artists in its collection, the Cologne art scene, the community of artists, galleries, museums, facilitates acquisitions and creates contacts.
The exhibitions of Cologne and international artists that the artothek has been staging from the start do not follow a set concept. They range from painting, drawings, sculpture and photography to video installations, works with a spatial reference and performance art. A jury whose members include curators from Museum Ludwig, Kölnischer Kunstverein and Kolumba ensures continuity and quality. As a result, the exhibitions have acquired a neutral profile so that even renowned artists often take the opportunity to exhibit their work.