Cologne's Galleries

Barbara Hess

The result of a survey is being shown on television: Komar in shown on wanted to know what kind of pictures the public likes and dislikes. The artists very precisely ikes the sum of these preferences and antipathies into two paintings: the favorite Was an abstract painting that looked like a detail from a picture by Howard Hodgkin and the most disliked as a conglomerate of various figurative elements in earth colors, I wondered what a work made up of the sum of Premieres '97 would look like. But the visual search for an "essence" of this event led nowhere. Launched in the early 80' s by a group of Cologne galleries and art institutions, this year the event was dominated by the "flair of low prices ( W. Grasskamp ). which is accommodating a new generation of young collectors.

One Of the Few real "premiers" was Stefan Abt's film installation Granada at Michael Janssen. a 20- minute "static narration", as Abt calls it, in four parts. filmed at four different places in the world. Unlike video or cinematic film, the large two -sided screen in die middle of the space allowed the viewer to move around freely. There were also filiar-related works at Christian Nagel, where John Waters. best known to most people as the director (if campy classics such as "Hairspray" and "Pink Flamingos," showed his favorite fetishes, such as Liz Taylor's hair in the form of a series or film-still collages.

Maria Brunner at Gisela Capitain and Matthias Groebel at Galerie Berndt also used filmstills as their source material, although here the subject was of lesser interest to them. From photographs of television pictures, Brunner cut perspectival elements such as rows of columns disappearing to a vanishing point and geometric floor-patterns.

Groebel,on the other hand, transfers digitized television pictures with a computer-guided airbrush pistol on to ccanvas: the pixels of the computer monitor become a vague pointillist color surface, which frustrates the viewer's voyeuristic impulse and desire for visual access.

Louise Lawler's new works at Monika Sprüth had a surprisingly painterly look: on large-formal cibachrome prints she shows the walls of the new spaces of her New York gallery, Metro Pictures, before its renovation and standardization as a typical white cube The works sat well, with their almost abstract flatness, next to the paintings of George Condo. Peter Lung. and Axel Kasseböhmer. The exhibition of paintings and drawings by Ralf Schauff at Daniel Buchholz was his first one man show in Cologne. The aesthetic in his work and their presentation are closely related to the Position of Michael Krebber which could the described as Kebber's relation to his references such as Wols, Polke, Höckelmann and Baselitz. At Johnen & Schöttle, there were no surprises in Inez van Lambsweerde's new cycle of glossy pictures, loaded with sexual meaning of primary school age girls entitled "The Widow". The critique of desire on the part of adults to see children as "innocent" ( a girl holds a man on her lap as Maria holds the dead Jesus) is one thing, as are girls trying out the role-models of adult women and putting on their mothers' stockings, but what concerns me is the explanation of the virulent desire here, that childish sexual desire should he aimed towards adults.

The few group shows varied from conceptual exhalations like 'Wechselstrom" (''Alternating Current ") curated by Thomas Seelig for Gallerie Ulrich Fiedler, which showed a representative spectrum of contemporary photography, to those that struck me as the chance meeting of various works on the walls of the gallery like "All of a Sudden II" ( quotinging a book title by Jack Pierson ) at Aurel Scheibler. Strollers who know the well-trodden pubs between Friesenplatz and the southern part of the city had a rare opportunity to see an extensive presentation of Moscow artist Alexander Djikia at Thomas Zander. whose dravvings with their accompanying text could be seen as a fRussian equivalent to those of Raymond Pettibon.

Few projects had such a utopian flair as Shifting Asphalt by Bittermann & Duka at Thomas Rehbein: using a computer, they designed fictional gardens to improve one of the many urban disasters in Cologne but without the concrete expectation of being able in realize their ideas in the foreseeable future. This rather pragmatic,down-to earth attitude also typified the general atmosphere of the Premieren weekend.

Barbara Hess is a critic based in cologne