Art Exhibitions

Fair Fatigue

Kenny Schachter recounts his recent trip to the Cologne Art Fair, his horrible dining experience, and asks if there just aren't too many art fairs out there.

By Kenny Schachter | 22 Apr 2012


In 2009 I wrote an obituary for the Cologne Art Fair ( and guess what? It’s still dead. Call it fair overload.  Markets are driven by a degree of psychology: when stocks go down, the good, bad and ugly get dragged down too. When you play tennis with someone awful sometimes you find yourself mimicking him or her and playing awfully as well. Art is no different, when a fair is blanketed by a stink of malaise; it is hard not to get despondent too. I thought viewing art would lift me out of the doldrums as it always does, but in this instance it sank me to lower levels. Art Cologne 46: doling out depression and hopelessness in equal measure. How many words are there for dull?
Ok maybe I am exaggerating there were some bright spots, and not all gloom and doom. Emphasis on some. I do like (certain) Germans and their art and there are always good people to catch up with and gossip, one of the primary reasons to frequent fairs. Admittedly, there were some wonderful artworks such as a moody, atmospheric postage stamp sized Richter painting at Springer and Winckler, from 1995 (about $500k) and a lovely Bridget Riley drawing from Ben Brown also from the 70’s (£60k). ). I think I like everything from that decade from the cars to the conceptual. And I am a fan of the lot from Franz West—there was a cool table from Konzett Gallery with the mess already built into it (€40k).
A single stroke of genius was to suck in the NADA fair, absorbing it in its entirety, into the body of the main fair. But did it really contribute to help the big picture?  I’m afraid no, nada. There were little or no Brits, Americans, and French in attendance, which, don’t get me wrong, was another example of a good thing. The overriding problem was that there was just not enough good art. And the addition of international fair stalwarts David Zwirner and Thaddeaus Ropac do not a successful fair make.
I don’t know if it was just me, but it was rather difficult to find someone to have a meal with, thankfully I had dragged Kai (my 14 year old) along for the ride. And it wasn’t just the art on offer that was mediocre or beyond but the restaurant in the fair was about the worst dining experience I ever had, bordering on the absurd and ludicrous. There were four rows of six tables and each and every time a “waiter or waitress” (if you could call them that) came along with a tray, they invariably went to the wrong table. Until they got it right, the wait staff was reduced to a tedious, drawn out game of process of elimination to deliver the goods to any patron. Such fun amounted to an hour before I landed a still water, by which time I was ready for a double scotch to avoid a double heart attack. To call it bad service would do a disservice to bad. After lunch, rather than a mint I needed an exit strategy, and quick; so I attempted to contact my travel agent 100 times to catch and earlier flight, then 100x more, then I tried another agent.
Though I thought there would be less fairs by now, there appear to be more. Won’t people ever learn? Yes, you can add to the demised list the Berlin fair, to which I say good riddance (ok, I may or may not have been accepted then rejected to that one). And sooner or later, I am sorry to say (not really) the same fate will befall Cologne. The upside: I never thought I could do anything to make school look appealing to a 14 year old.

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