A History of the First Modern Art Fair by Günter Herzog

1974-83: Internationaler Kunstmarkt (a Fair alternating between Cologne and Düsseldorf)

In autumn 1973, the Verein progressiver deutscher Kunsthändler masterminded the founding of a European art dealers’ association, the Europäische Kunsthändler-Vereinigung (EKV). Its objective was to organize a more internationally-oriented Cologne fair and attract a larger group of international dealers. The new association was set up on 17 December 1973.

In 1974, the EKV organized a revamped Internationaler Kunstmarkt Köln. The fair relocated from the Cologne Kunsthalle, its venue since 1968, to Halls 1 and 2 of the exhibition centre run by the Cologne trade fair organization. Here it occupied some 10,000 square metres of space – space it needed as it now played host to 80 international exhibitors. The winner of the 1974 EKV Prize was Alfred H. Barr, founding director of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.

With market conditions deteriorating in 1974, the EKV and the IKI decided to join forces by setting up the 'Internationaler Kunstmarkt Köln 1975' (IKM). By this time, the event occupied the entire ground floor of the Rheinhallen (Halls 1-3). A highlight at the 1975 event was the Fair's supporting programme, curated by Elisabeth Jappe. Jérôme Savary’s 'Grand Magic Circus' from Paris performed in Cologne city centre, the English group 'Welfare State' gave Celebratory Theatre performances and Friedrich Gulda gave two concerts. The winner of the 1975 Prize was Arnold Bode, a founding father of documenta. On 9 September 1975, the German members of the EKV and the members of the IKI met to set up the Bundesverband Deutscher Galerien (BVDG).

The next edition of Internationaler Kunstmarkt Köln was held in 1976, the year in which the contemporary art fair FIAC was founded in Paris. It was staged in Düsseldorf as a concession to the Düsseldorf-based IKI. From 1976 to 1983, the venue of Internationaler Kunstmarkt alternated between Cologne and Düsseldorf. Winner of the EKV and BVDG Prize in 1976 was Paul Wember, the director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Museum in Krefeld, a museum famed for its avant-garde programme. Elisabeth Jappe's line-up of supporting events titled 'Kunst live' showcased a range of international theatre performances and actions by Mauricio Kagel, The Mabou Mines (New York), the Squat Theatre (Budapest) and many other attractions.

In 1977, Internationaler Kunstmarkt Köln focussed on the feminist movement. The Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst staged an exhibition titled Künstlerinnen - International 1877-1977. The BVDG organized a Performance Festival that outdid the Performance section at documenta 6. Prizewinner in 1977 was Knud W. Jensen, the founder of the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, Denmark. However it was an unsatisfactory fair in many ways. Attendance was down, critics identified a burn-out malaise and an absence of innovation. Exhibitors bemoaned the high costs in relation to turnover. It was the first crisis in the Fair's history. There was even talk of plans to skip a year.

In 1978, Bogislav von Wentzel replaced Alexander von Berswordt-Wallrabe as BVDG chairman. He decided to stage the Fair in Düsseldorf but with a drastically reduced line-up of only 100 galleries. Exhibitors were selected by a BVDG committee. A further change was the introduction of a special supporting exhibition designed to attract museums to present their collections. The Städtisches Museum Abteiberg in Mönchengladbach, under its director Johannes Cladders, was the first exhibitor. The 1978 West German art-market prize went to Giulio Claudio Argan, the celebrated art historian and one-time mayor of Rome. No further Fair prizes were awarded until 1984

In 1979 it was Cologne's turn to host the event and again, only 100 galleries exhibited. The market had, however, recovered. The supporting exhibition featured the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, showcasing new purchases acquired for the Staatsgalerie's new extension designed by James Stirling.

The year 1980 saw the introduction of one of the Fair's particularly successful new projects. BVDG secretary Gerhard F. Reinz and the Bonn gallerist Philomene Magers introduced a sponsorship programme for young artists, the 'Förderprogramm für junge Künstler'. Reinz successfully raised funds from the Düsseldorf and the Cologne trade fair organizations, the cities of Düsseldorf and Cologne, the State of North Rhine-Westphalia and the West German Federal Government. The programme is currently titled 'New Positions'. The sponsorship scheme gave the established and classically-oriented Fair a new avant-garde dimension. In Düsseldorf, the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven showcased work by forerunners of the Neuen Wilden – artists like Baselitz, Lüpertz, Penck, Kiefer and Immendorf. The exhibitor list was increased to 123 galleries. Turnover and attendance also increased.

Some representatives of the Neuen Wilden had already made an appearance in 1980. At the 1981 Fair they were in strong evidence at sponsored stands. The special museum show was staged by Dieter Honisch and showcased recent acquisitions by the Nationalgalerie in Berlin. In 1982, it was the turn of the Kunstmuseum in Bonn to present work by German artists from the museum's collection. Despite the boost in attendance figures and turnover at the 1983 Düsseldorf edition, opinion from outside West Germany strongly suggested that in its role as West Germany's leading art fair, Internationaler Kunstmarkt Köln now needed a fixed venue. It also needed to clarify its identity and sharpen its profile vis-à-vis the large number of European competitors. Discussions were held between the BVDG and a number of German trade fair organizations and the choice of venue fell to Cologne.

1984 - 2000: ART COLOGNE