How BVDG, the Gallery Association and Art Cologne Partner, Is Paving New Roads for the Art Market

BVDG announced the latest recipients of the Art Cologne Prize and New Positions funding, as well as made strides in bringing back reduced VAT for art in the E.U.

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Comprised of approximately 350 gallerists, art publishers, and fine art dealers, the Association of German Galleries and Fine Art Dealers, known as BVDG, maintains a mission of promoting and securing the best interests of its members across spheres—public, political, and economic. The largest union of its type in the world, BVDG is an important and influential partner and consultant within the art market and greater art world, providing special insight into the unique and often diverse activities of gallerists, dealers, and publishers.

Amongst its many partnerships, one of BVDG’s most significant collaborations is with Art Cologne art fair, widely considered the oldest fair of its kind. With the opening of the 2023 edition underway, Vice Chairwoman Anke Schmidt of BVDG held a press conference, highlighting the new and ongoing facets of the two organization’s collaboration.

Anke Schmidt, Vice Chairwoman BVDG; ©Anke Schmidt.

Each year, Art Cologne and BVDG together organize the New Positions, a funding program for young and emerging artists, which helps enable them to gain better access to the market at large. Leveraging the wealth of experience and knowledge of BVDG’s member galleries, the juried initiative has chosen 20 artists to support, including Natalie Paneng, Céline Ducrot, and Jonas Roßmeißl. “Galleries are the real discoverers of new talents, and this has been honored by the Art Cologne sponsorship program since the early 1980s. It is a best-practice model with a high impact, because the selected artists are given a wonderful opportunity to grow into the art market,” said Schmidt.

Another important part of the fair and union’s collaboration is the Art Cologne Prize, an annual award that recognizes exceptional commitment and contribution to the art world. The 2023 awardee is the inimitable Walther König, a veteran force with the realm of arts publications who has dedicated himself to the production of artists’ books—a mode he pioneered through close relationships and working partnerships forged over the course of many decades. He has served as present of Art Cologne for 56 years; a stalwart fixture of the fair that has garnered him and his practice both followers and admirers. The Art Cologne Prize is accompanied by an endowment of €10,000, presented jointly by BVDG and Koelnmesse.

Walther König. Courtesy of BVDG.

“Walther König is the first Art Cologne prize winner who is equally important for the entire art scene—for the artists, museums, art associations and galleries with whom he has made an incredible number of books” Schmidt commented. “And for legions of art lovers, academics, specialists, and other readers… also for anyone who just wants to buy a postcard or a shop item in a museum.”

Birgit Sturm and Silvia Zörner (both of BVDG) at the “Praxistag für Galerien” (Workshop Day for Galleries) conference organised by the BVDG in Cologne (2022). Photo: Raphael Hingst, Galerie Frank Schlag & Cie.

One of the leading concerns of both BVDG and its members has been the VAT rate for the commercial art market within Europe. In 2014, the E.U. abolished a reduced rate of VAT for businesses such as galleries, placing a significant tax burden—19 percent in Germany—to all commercial art business. However, due in large part to ongoing and persistent petitioning and pressure from BVDG in partnership with other stakeholders, last year a coalition agreement was made, and the German government took steps to reconsider implementing a reduced VAT rate for art objects. This mirrors steps other E.U. countries have already taken, which had led to inequitable treatment of German galleries and art businesses, including art publishers, to date. The new rate would see the VAT as low as 7 percent, and reflects Germany’s cultural policy of fostering and promoting the arts within the country through beneficial business practices.

Spoken about by Schmidt at the opening of the 2023 edition of Art Cologne, the fair marks a new chapter and new horizon for the German—and international—art world.

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