Galerie 30Works
Cologne has dozens of great galleries. The 30works gallery for pop art and street art is one of them. Photo: 30works

Cologne’s art scene: the hottest galleries, projects and events

Cologne is a city that likes its art. It's home to some marvellous musems, a well-connected gallery scene and one of the oldest and most important art fairs. Here's a taste of what Cologne's art cosmos has to offer.

Save the dates: Art Cologne – DC Open Gallery – AIC ON

Started as an art market in 1967, what became Art Cologne in 1984 is now an international event, featuring as many as 200 galleries from across the globe.

Art Cologne
Art Cologne is one of the world’s largest and most important art fairs. Photo: Art Cologne

The DC Open Gallery annual weekend of art (2 to 4 September) is hosted by 50 galleries, museums and alternative spaces from Düsseldorf to Cologne.

And then there’s Art Initiatives Cologne (AIC), formed by a range of independent art and project spaces, initiatives and festivals that showcase the diversity of Cologne’s art scene year-round. Their AIC ON event will be taking place from 10 to 12 June this year.

artrmx/AZE: bringing together like-minded artists

Founded in 2006, artrmx is a non-profit association that brings together artists working in paint, video, photography, installation, performance, public spaces and new media. An extensive exhibition space was added in 2013 in the shape of Atelierzentrum Ehrenfeld (AZE) and there are currently 17 creatives working together in 11 studios.

Their annual group exhibition, Gruppe 69, shows the member artists and their work. The next exhibition is scheduled for 2023.

The network also organises the CityleaksFestival, which is held every two years, the next one being in 2023.

Atelierzentrum Ehrenfeld (AZE)
There are currently 17 creatives collaborating at Atelierzentrum Ehrenfeld (AZE). Photo: AZE

International flair in the ECHO shared exhibition space

Cologne is an interesting, dynamic centre of art and five international galleries that share that opinion last year joined forces in a new exhibition project, ECHO, housed in what used to be the Jan Kaps gallery.

The five – Bureau from New York, Hot Wheels from Athens, LC Queisser from Tiflis and Stereo and Wschód from Warsaw – show their own exhibitions as well as taking part in the local discourse in Cologne. There are exhibitions by individual artists from the five galleries plus a number of group exhibitions. A group exhibition is planned for this year’s Art Cologne.

Roonstraße 108, 50674 Cologne, opening hours: Thursday to Saturday, 2pm-6pm

Ausstellungsprojekt ECHO
The ECHO project, a union of five international galleries, will be among those exhibiting works at Art Cologne. Photo: Art Cologne

An evening in the Belgian Quarter – show up at the showroom before you hit the bars

Spent all day in galleries and still haven’t had enough? If you’re planning to round off the day at one of the Belgian Quarter’s plethora of bars, make sure you visit Die Kunstagentin Anne Scherer on Maastrichter Straße first. Anne specialises in contemporary and urban European art and only opens her showroom for those who register in advance. Pop artist Jim Avignon is a frequent visitor here.

Maastrichter Str. 10 | EG 007, 50672 Cologne

Salon Schmitz
Salon Schmitz in Cologne is a popular meeting place for art fans from around the world. Photo: Salon Schmitz

Afterwards, Salon Schmitz is a good place to drop by (it’s best to book). In the lounge area of this café/restaurant, art lovers can take a seat on one of the stylish Danish and German design classics from the 1950s and 60s. At the back of the building, there’s a function room where Kunstgruppe (aka Dirk and Trixi Mecky) put on exhibitions featuring well-known and not so well-known artists.

Night owls can move on a few streets to Zum Scheuen Reh for short films, readings, exhibitions, concerts and, at the weekends, partying until four o’clock in the morning.

A stroll through Ehrenfeld, the creative district

The best way to get an idea of the creative diversity this district boasts is to follow the Kunstroute Ehrenfeld art trail. Each year, some 60 artists and gallery owners open their studios and exhibition spaces for two days so visitors can look behind the scenes. In the past few years, the event has been held in a virtual format due to the pandemic.

Streetart Köln
Ehrenfeld is Cologne’s most colourful neighbourhood – at least in terms of its street art. Photo: Strassengold

No other neighbourhood in Cologne has as many murals as Ehrenfeld. Some of them have already earned a permanent place in the streetscape: the skinned rabbit on Senefelder Straße, for example, the Captain Borderline group’s memorial to the members of the Edelweiß Pirates Nazi resistance movement who were hung here and Matriarchy by Ukrainian street artist Aleksei ­Bordusov aka AEC.

Want to find out more about Cologne’s street art? Projekt Straßengold, an offshoot of the “Cityleaks Urban Art Festival 2016”, provides information about what to see where and regularly curates its own exhibitions.

Shaping talent: the Academy of Media Arts (KHM)

When the first 25 students enrolled at Cologne’s Academy of Media Arts (KHM) in 1990, there was lots of talk of “electronic Bauhaus”, “an experiment with no guarantee of success” and “churning out talent”. Most people couldn’t relate to the idea of art that didn’t use paper and paint, wood, bronze or stone.

Kunsthochschule für Medien in Köln
Students from Cologne’s Academy of Media Arts regularly present their projects. Photo: KHM

Today, the KHM is an institution, offering programmes in Media Arts, Image Design/Camera/Montage and Literature/Scriptwriting/Storytelling/Dramaturgy.

Students past and present regularly exhibit their work and it’s always worthwhile taking a look at the website. From 13 to 17 July, they’ll be hosting exhibitions, film showings, readings and performances presenting their diploma projects in the Academy’s buildings on Filzengraben and in Museum Ludwig’s Filmforum.

A place where misfits fit in: Moltkerei Werkstatt

Moltkerei Werkstatt was set up in 1981 as a non-profit institution for arts that didn’t really fit anywhere. Since the early 1990s, Christian Merscheid has been managing this art space, where genres such as (sound) installation, performance and video mingle. Open days give audiences an opportunity to get involved in the creative process and talk to those behind it. The exhibiting artists include well-known names and newcomers. Performance duo Abramovic & Ulay and video artist Bettina Gruber, for instance, were featured here before they went on to become established artists.

Moltkerei Werkstatt
Cologne’s Moltkerei Werkstatt brings together (sound) installations, performances and video. Photo: Moltkerei Werkstatt

68elf – an independent art society

In 1988, a group of 11 artists founded an independent art society at 68 Bismarckstraße in Cologne, giving themselves the name 68elf (elf is German for “eleven”). “Our aim was to provide young, contemporary artists with a space to produce and exhibit their work for free,” says Agii Gosse, who co-chairs the society with Christiane Rath. In addition to being well-connected in Cologne’s art scene, 68elf carries out art projects Germany-wide. Since 2020, it has been hosting small exhibitions at the 68elf-Studio, focusing on socially relevant, sociopolitical and aesthetic themes.

68elf regularly holds small exhibitions at its 68elf studio. Photo: 68elf

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