Art Cologne Director Thinks Art Basel’s Expansion Is a ‘Form of Colonialism’

As the 51st edition of Art Cologne kicks off, Daniel Hug has some choice words for its competitor.

Daniel Hug, director of Art Cologne. Photo courtesy Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images.

The 51st edition of Art Cologne, the world’s longest-running art fair, opens to the public tomorrow and runs until Saturday. Just a few weeks ago, the fair’s parent company Koelnmesse announced its purchase of abc Art Berlin Contemporary, signaling the end of the crumbling fair and the beginning of a new one in its place—Art Berlin, which will take place for the first time this September 14-17.

Daniel Hug, the director of both fairs, spoke to DPA on the eve of Art Cologne, and while he didn’t reveal much about the future direction of Art Berlin, he did have things to say about Art Basel.

In February, its parent company MCH acquired a 25.1 percent stake in art.fair International GmbH, the Cologne-based organizer behind the newly founded Art Dusseldorf, a venture Hug thinks is “a form of colonialism.”

“When the Swiss start offshoots all over the world, then they have a power over the art market that represses regional culture. That is also a form of colonialism. Art is diverse. We should not destroy it,” Hug said.

But how does Art Cologne’s expansion differ from that of MCH?

“We have a completely different philosophy,” Hug explained. “Art Cologne exists to promote the German art market. The Swiss fair association, however, only goes for commercial success, because there are not many Swiss galleries. It has no responsibility for a particular region.”

According to Hug’s logic, the globalization of Art Basel means a watering down of, and a threat to, local scenes.

“They founded Art Basel in Miami and Art Basel in Hong Kong, that makes sense. But now, if they wanted to build a third offshoot [in Dusseldorf], it could become a problem. Then you would have Art Basel constantly.”

A spokesperson for Art Basel offered artnet News the following statement in response:

“As we have communicated numerous times, Art Basel has no plans to organize additional fairs alongside its three shows in Basel, Miami Beach and Hong Kong. Art Basel’s strategy is to focus on further developing these three fairs and establishing Art Basel Cities, our new initiative that expands Art Basel’s engagement from staging art fairs to working with cities to develop cultural events with international resonance. At Art Basel we do not see fairs such as Art Cologne as competitors but as colleagues. We firmly believe that good fairs are important for a sound art market in general.
Art Basel is not involved in developing MCH’s regional art fair strategy, which has to be seen as part of MCH Group’s overall strategy of internationalization across many industries. As MCH Group has communicated clearly, there are no plans by MCH Group to homogenize the regional art fairs landscape – regional fairs within the MCH Group’s portfolio will remain independent fairs with their own specific identity.”

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