Mangoes, Jute, and Father’s Mask
Less is sometimes more.
At least for Viennese gallery owner Emanuel Layr, who is taking part in ART COLOGNE 2023. One of his motivations for doing so, he says, is the fair’s “streamlined approach this year.” This, in turn, has led to an increase in the overall quality of participating galleries. What's particularly striking is the strong presence of seventeen Austrian galleries, with the majority hailing from Vienna and featuring artists with ties to Germany. Some galleries are making a return after a significant absence, including Charim, Exile, Meyer Kainer, and Layr himself.
Emanuel Layr not only praises the fair’s quality but also acknowledges the “great institutions in Cologne and its surroundings,” along with the German art academies. He notes that a critical discourse remains vibrant and exciting, making it a compelling environment to engage with. Consequently, he has opted for a solo presentation, featuring the work of Benjamin Hirte, who is showing two new stone sculptures. Layr remarks, “Benjamin now primarily focuses on stone as a medium, and we want to present it with great confidence. He has achieved remarkable feats in sculpture." Born in Aschaffenburg, Benjamin Hirte now resides in Vienna.
The Layr Gallery presents sculptures made of Carrara marble by Benjamin Hir-te. (Not yet titled, 2023, Courtesy the artist & Layr, Vienna. Foto: Michael Uecke)
Gallery MEYER*KAINER, whose roots date back to the 1980s, is presenting two complementary artworks—two “characteristic portrait series,” as Christian Meyer describes them. The first of these is Rosemarie Trockel's “Father” (1995), a wall piece comprising a plaster mask and eleven portrait drawings. These drawings depict her father, serving as a "genealogical exploration of her own kinship, which simultaneously reflects her own position as an artist in a complex manner.” In contrast, the gallery is also exhibiting sculptures by the Viennese artist group Gelatin. They placed two aluminum casts of the backs of people’s heads on pedestals, an “attempt to define various social archetypes,” says Meyer.
As opposed to MEYER*KAINER, the traditional gallery nächst St. Stephan was also in Cologne in 2022.
This year, owner Rosemarie Schwarzwälder is showing Bernard Frize, Katharina Grosse, Sheila Hicks, Joelle Tuerlinckx, and Jongsuk Yoon, among others. The gallery has maintained a longstanding collaboration with Grosse, who is currently presenting an exhibition at the Albertina in Vienna, spanning nearly 25 years. “In her latest works, she concentrates on six colors, which she places in intense relationships to one another,” says Schwarzwälder, “forming a compelling artistic statement that continually challenges our perception and sensibilities with its unique forms and interplays of color. In addition to Grosse, Schwarzwälder also highlights the achievements of her colleague, Jongsuk Yoon. Born in South Korea and living in Germany for the past thirty years, Yoon‘s work seamlessly merges allusions to Asian landscape painting with abstraction. “Her work has evolved considerably in recent years,” praises the gallery owner.
At Galerie nächst St. Stephan Rosemarie Schwarzwälder, works by South Korean artist Jongsuk Yoon are on display. (Clouds, 2023, Foto: Achim Kukulies; Courtesy Galerie nächst St. Stephan Rosemarie Schwarzwälder)
Victoria Dejaco and Michael Wonnerth-Magnusson have been responsible for one of the most exciting additions to the Viennese art scene in recent years. Since 2020, their gallery, Galerie Wonnerth Dejaco, has been representing both established and emerging artists in the heart of the city. At ART COLOGNE, they are showing the painter Maja Vukoje, a Düsseldorf native who received high acclaim for her 2020 exhibition at the Belvedere in Vienna. Vukoje paints striking motifs of colonial goods, such as mangoes, on jute sacks used for trading coffee and other global commodities. Michael Wonnerth-Magnusson explains, “Maja Vukoje’s consistent exploration of post-colonial power dynamics is propelling the evolution of painting as a medium for critical cultural production.” Her colleague Victoria Dejaco has high hopes for ART COLOGNE: "We would like to extend Maja's successful career in Austria to Germany and hope to make exciting contacts in Cologne.” In any case, she’ll be in good company at ART COLOGNE. That’s for sure. Or, as they say in Vienna, “Das ist fix.”