Can Art Cologne’s Takeover of Art Berlin Contemporary Breathe New Life Into an Ailing Fair?

The new 'Art Berlin' fair will launch in September.

There are major changes afoot in Germany’s art fair landscape. In February, MCH Group, the parent company of Art Basel, announced its stake in a new fair, Art Düsseldorf. Now, Koelnmesse, the company behind Germany’s oldest and grandest art fair, Art Cologne, is planning a takeover of the Berlin-based art berlin contemporary (abc).

The new Berlin fair, which will be renamed Art Berlin, will launch this year between September 14-17 under the co-directorship of Art Cologne director Daniel Hug and abc director Maike Cruse. Art Berlin will take place at abc’s traditional home, in a former mail depot station at Gleisdreieck.

In a letter to participating exhibitors obtained by Art Magazine, Cruse writes, “On the ninth anniversary of abc a new art fair will follow with a focus on developing Berlin and Cologne, the two most important gallery destinations in Germany, as long-term art fair destinations too.”

The takeover comes at a time when Koelnmesse competitor MCH Group is showing interest in the German art market as part of a new strategy to diversify its regional art fair portfolio. By acquiring a stake in Art Düsseldorf, MCH is encroaching on Koelnmesse’s domestic market share.

Art Cologne director Daniel Hug told artnet News in an email that it was too soon to reveal details of the takeover. “We cannot comment on the details at the moment as we are still in talks with the Berliners. But it is a cooperation supported by both sides,” he said. “We will announce more information in May.”

Maike Cruse, Director of Art Berlin Contemporary. Photo: Wolfgang Stahr.

However, Cruse told artnet News in an email that the new fair emerged from negotiations over a scheduling conflict between Art Cologne and Berlin’s Gallery Weekend—which Cruse also heads.

“Daniel Hug and I talked extensively in the past months to find solutions for the scheduling clash between Gallery Weekend and Art Cologne,” she explained. “In these conversations we also discussed common goals and synergies. This gave us the idea to combine our strengths.”

Daniel Hug Director of Art Cologne, Photo: courtesy of koelnmesse

Daniel Hug Director of Art Cologne. Photo: courtesy of koelnmesse.

The director emphasized that the goal for both organizations is to bolster the German art market which has been hindered in recent years by the government’s raising of the sales taxes on artworks and the unpopular cultural protection regulations. “It is in both our interests to strengthen the German art market,” Cruse said. “We are bringing together the expertise, network, and experience of two successful teams, this will benefit Berlin’s art market in the long term.”

Despite Berlin’s notoriously weak buying power, Cruse is confident that the city’s future perspective as a viable marketplace lies in the strength of its art scene. “Berlin is the most important gallery destination in the world after New York City and the largest production site for artists,” she insisted. “There are more and more sales in the city, especially among the young galleries. Koelnmesse clearly sees this potential. In addition to the numerous known collectors moving to Berlin, there more young people starting to buy art.”

The move also comes at a point where the art fair abc has been in decline. Last year, exhibitors numbers were unusually low, and sales, slow. With Art Cologne’s 51st edition about to take off in two weeks, it will soon become clear whether the scheduling clash, caused this year for the first time due to the Easter holidays in Germany, will impact the number of collectors in attendance.

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