10 Top Spots for Contemporary Culture in Cologne

Having spent a year in Cologne Germany here is a list that I have compiled of the city’s top spots for contemporary culture, as featured on The Local Germany:



Nina Beier at The Kölnischer Kunstverein

Last night mixed-media artist of the moment Nina Beier spoke about her practice at The Kölnischer Kunstverein. Born in 1975, the Dane began her career in London and is now based in Berlin. Since 2010 her work has been lauded for it’s aesthetically fluent yet thought-provoking nature.


A fan of the found object Beier has employed everything from Persian rugs to banknote beach towels in order to confront the theme of time in her work. Beier eloquently spoke about taking inspiration from internet stock images, the anonymity and agelessness of which have prompted her to realise them in her art, giving physical substance to things that might have otherwise been lost or forgotten in our self-deleting digital age.


Beier reproduces these stock images in various formats. In her earlier work she printed them as large, simplistic images, dipped them in glue and draped them across everyday objects such as radiators, to dry. Recently she has taken a more 3D approach, using real items to recreate the images themselves and then dropping them into water. Suspending a mundane object such as a white mug with copper coins pouring out of it, in an oversized, apparently full, cocktail glass, she creates a sense of movement, a trait employed by stock image creators in order to set their image apart from competitors.


The artist explained how her fascination for the history of the object and the image is something that she continues to explore in her latest work. We were given a brief preview of a piece from ‘Cash For Gold’, which opens at the Kunstverein Hamburg next week. A painted porcelain figure of a dog is positioned next to a to a vase. Whilst both are made from the same material and in a similar style one was produced in China and the other in Italy. Each of the items have bite-shaped sections removed from them. The missing pieces create visual threads that link the two together.


The work of Nina Beier is in many ways difficult to fault. Carefully conceived and elegantly executed it is bolstered by philosophical thought and critical social comment that strive to make it relevant in a disorientated era. An archetype of the art of our time: whilst the work looks and sounds theoretically good, the repeated use of readymade aspects make it ultimately feel anonymous.

Are you series?

Last week ‘Are you series?’ opened at Philara Düsseldorf, displaying over a hundred works from 28 artists all in one room, the exhibition is aptly named. The featured artists are students of Professor Johannes Wohnseifer at the Kunsthochschule für Medien Köln (KHM.) Together they have created a show that turns the notion of serial art on its head.


Whilst each of the artists have produced a series of works these are displayed in a far from traditional manner. Rather than showing each series as a unit the works have been separated and spread across the room to intermingle with one another.Treating the output of 28 artists as a uniform series could have gone seriously wrong, especially when such a range of techniques and materials have been used. However ‘Are you series?’ skilfully juxtaposes a huge variety of works in order to highlight their individual strengths.


Take the work of Lukas Johannes Heerich’s who has stretched large pieces of beige fabric over frames so that they each feature a single fold. Whilst their minimal elegance allows them to stand alone they are surrounded by other works that add to their aesthetic appeal. The grafitti-inspired pictures of Severin Humboldt which flank one of Heerich’s canvases could not be further from their neighbour’s simplistic style; created from a mix of digital mediums Humbodt’s colourful inkjet-printed pictures feature images of brick walls with slogans such as ‘Smoke some weed’ sprayed upon them. Although the juxtaposition is obvious it is not intrusive, the contrast in styles serves to highlight the strong points of each.


Looking about the room one is confronted by a conscious interruption of artistic techniques, this frenetic display is nonetheless united by the high-quality of the pieces on show as well as the overriding sense of humour that accompanies them. The show’s irony is summed up by the decision to place one of Julius Metzger’s sloganized doormats which reads ‘Calm down all these years’ parallel to Hermes Villena’s photograph of a debauched man swinging around a pole over which is written: ‘The only thing that is going to survive in a depression is a good time.’

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‘Are you series? avoids over-crowding by establishing key focal points throughout the room. The gallery space is a white-washed warehouse whose pillars, rather than obstructing the perspective have been incorporated into the layout in order to orientate the viewer. At the centre of the room are Roman Hahlbrock’s ‘Shritte’, a set of see-through, 3D-printed steps which suspended from the ceiling, act as an abstract view-finder through which the rest of the exhibition can be observed.


By challenging visitors to piece together the deconstructed series themselves ‘Are you series?’ demands  engagement. The show overcomes its size with an arresting layout and a sharp sense of wit that leave the viewer feeling refreshed rather than overwhelmed.

‘Are you series?’ is on at Philara Düsseldorf until 10th May.

Photographs courtesy of Jan Höhe

Kunstakademie Düsseldorf Rundgang 2015

I am willing to contradict the tagline of this blog in order to discuss this year´s Kunstakademie Düsseldorf Rundgang which took place last week.

Düsseldorf Art Academy has long since been considered one of Europe’s foremost Art Schools, the likes of Paul Klee have taught there and amongst its alumni it boasts Joseph Bueys and Gerhard Richter to note just a couple. This being the case it is not surprising that the institution’s degree show or ‘Rundgang’ is one of the most observed events on the German arts calendar.


At Düsseldorf the professors pick their students. This means that the each room at the degree show (which takes up the entire three floors of the art school building) is dedicated to a specific professor’s class, or the works that said professor has chosen to represent his class. As for the ‘unselected’ students their work is left, perhaps unfairly, to line the corridors between each of the showrooms. Discrimination aside, with Peter Doig and Andreas Gurksy as current professors it was with a sense of anticipation that I first stepped through the academy’s doors.

Sadly what came next, as seems to be the case with most large degree shows, was disappointing. Of course one can put this down to probability, with so many artworks on display it is inevitable that only a few will stand out in the end. The pieces that shone did so for the personality behind them. Take Katharina Beilstein’s ‘Platforms’; a range of brightly coloured sculptures, precisely crafted from wood and plastic to take the form of outlandish platform shoes. Although one could argue that they are more fashion design than fine art, the quality of the pieces themselves as well as their clear character made a refreshing change from the foggy mass of almost-anonymous art.

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I believe that Art Schools play a pivotal role in helping students to find their ‘artistic identity’ and I do not wish to undermine this process for a second. However I myself belonging to a generation whose identity has been dwarfed by the internet, couldn’t help feeling disheartened by the lack of creative autonomy on display. Internet MEEMS reproduced in various mediums alongside an over-prevalence of frankly past-it 90’s themes worked together to give the impression of a bunch of people that had spent too much time on Instagram.

But perhaps that was the point, perhaps it was this precise feeling of living in an identity-less digital age that the students wished to relay. However if this was the case then I  can’t help feeling that they could have done so with more humour. There was one example which can be upheld as managing both of these things and that was one student’s identical recreation of Gerhard Richter’s ‘Betty,’  a clear middle-finger to the anonymity of our age, at least it made me laugh.


Von Spar at Week-End Festival

Since the October  release of ‘StreetLife’ (Italic Recordings), their long-anticipated fourth album, Von Spar  have been at the centre of much critical acclaim.

The Cologne-based band,  first came on the scene in 2003 and swiftly gained recognition for their heterogeneous style. Sebastian Blume, Jan Philipp Janzen, Christopher Marquez and Phillip Tielsch have been praised for their ability to create catchy tunes from a myriad of musical genres. ‘StreetLife’ skilfully combines elements of Krautrock, synth pop, techno and more. It is a testament to Von Spar’s musical versatility and has already been dubbed one of the ‘albums of the year.’ 


So it was to an excited home crowd that the band performed at Stadthalle Mulheim’s Week-End festival last Saturday. For the first half of the set they were joined on stage by Canadian singer and co-collaborator Marker Starling (aka Chris Cummings) whose poignant vocals feature on four out of eight tracks on the new album. With the audience fired-up following a punchy delivery of ‘Chain of Command’, two saxophonists joined the stage for a spine-tingling rendition of ‘Breaking Formation.’  A highlight of the evening was the band’s performance of ‘One human minute’ whose moreish beats and epic vocals make it impossible not to dance to.

The night’s set epitomised the musical scope that we have come to expect from Von Spar. With several star album reviews and a host of gigs booked for the new year, Von Spar’s dedication to genre-bending music is clearly paying off.

Ken Okiishi “Screen Presence” at Museum Ludwig

To celebrate its 25th anniversary, the Arts Foundation of of North Rhine-Westphalia has paired up 25 international artists with 25 art museums in the region. The artists have been asked to interact with the galleries’ permanent collections in order to produce exclusive works that will be shown alongside the originals that inspired them.

On Tuesday night New York artist Ken Okiishi spoke about the installation “Screen Presence” that he has produced in collaboration with Museum Ludwig for the 25/25/25 project.

Inspired by two specific works from the Ludwig’s permanent collection: Yves Klein’s “Blau-Abkommen” and Günther Uecker’s nail relief “weiß-weiß”, Okiishi’s installation consists of four LED monitors that have been carefully positioned at three specific points around the museum. The first monitor rests directly opposite “weiß-weiß” and like a twisted twin sister the flat-screen displays a full-size image of Uecker’s original, the surface of which is disturbed by the real-life nails that have been stuck side-down onto it.


Whilst this first monitor plays with our perception the second questions our outlook. Positioned in the Haubrich collection opposite a portrait of the collector, it displays a video image of the first monitor, the appearance of which is distorted by the light-refracting translucent oil paint that Okiishi has brushed onto its surface. The reflective paint and careful positioning of the monitor cleverly interact with the surrounding collection and several of the works appear mirrored as a backdrop on the screen’s surface.

The final part of the installation consists of two monitors placed next to one another. Positioned in a room that overlooks the Rhine the two screens are inspired by Yves Klein’s “Blau-Abkommen”, whilst one captures the frantic and ever-changing trajectory of several museum artworks across its flickering screen, the other displays a tranquil Klein blue.

“Screen Presence” is more than just a clever comment on the interface-obsessed interaction of our age. Okiishi’s use of flat-screens as canvases creates a skilful contradiction: whilst physically distancing the viewer from the original work it simultaneously encourages engagement. By displaying the works of Uecker and Klein as if they were on iPad screens, modern-day audiences are forced to reconsider the way in which they have become accustomed to viewing art.


“Screen Presence “ will be on display at Museum Ludwig until February.

Museum Ludwig: Ludwig Goes Pop

Founded in 1976 The Ludwig Museum is Cologne’s answer to The Tate Modern or MoMa. Not only is it the city’s largest contemporary art gallery but it houses one of the world’s most extensive Pop Art collections. Resting at the foot of Cologne’s iconic cathedral or ‘Dom’ the museum’s prominent location makes it impossible to miss. Yet it wasn’t until I found myself with nothing to do on a a rainy Monday that I finally walked through its illustrious doors.


Last week the museum celebrated the opening of a new exhibition: ‘Ludwig goes Pop’ an exclusive display of Peter and Irene Lud­wig’s very own Pop Art collection that will be running until January next year. The museum was named after the Ludwigs for a reason and whilst normally a private collection would not be substantial enough to give an overview of an entire art movement, theirs, is an exception to the rule.


The breadth of collection is such that the show has been divided into no less than eleven sections. From ‘Con-sumption is cool’ to ‘Stars and Starlets’ visitors are treated to an in-depth and accessible study of everything and anything Pop Art. From Warhol’s most iconic work to a more obscure Paolozzi sculpture, nothing has been left out.

Physically and conceptually the exhibition is flawless although personally I realised that I don’t much like Pop Art. Whilst being surrounded by brash aesthetics and crass colours made me want to get the hell out of there, this is probably the precise reaction that the Pop Artists wished to provoke from their audience in the first place.