The Best 7 Shows to See During Art Cologne

From Sofia Mascate’s whimsical reimagining of Diego Velázquez at BPA Space to Reinhard Mucha’s major retrospective at K20 and K21

BY Stanton Taylor in Critic's Guides | 17 NOV 22

Scrambled Ontologies: A Fabulation

Sies + Höke, Dusseldorf

21 October – 22 December

‘Scrambled Ontologies: A Fabulation’, 2022, exhibition view, Sies + Höke, Dusseldorf. Courtesy: Sies + Höke; Photo: Tino Kukulies

Following her work as co-curator of Lantzscher Skulpturpark 2021, ‘Scrambled Ontologies’ continues Dusseldorf-based curator Victoria Tarak’s interest in the fraught relationships between humans and their environment. Contrary to the exhibition’s title and cryptic press release – which invites us to read the show through the prism of ‘wildness’ – visitors can expect a tightly curated group show that invites concentration and calm. Zoe Leonard’s series ‘Al río / To the River’ (2016–22), for example, hovers between documentary photography and meditative abstraction. By contrast, Grinder (2022), by Anna R. Winder of the b_books publishing collective, is a revolving wooden reading stand that playfully offers an analogue alternative to the insatiable lure of the digital doomscroll. Elsewhere, Jorge Loureiro’s labyrinthine series of pencil drawings, such as Who Will Save the Lazy Sperm (2021), surreally charts the antics of unborn children already failing to adapt to the strictures of a capitalist world in the fallopian tube. Though it’s rarely clear how the works fit the curatorial concept, the show more than makes up for it with sheer sensory appeal.

Landscapes of Labour

KAI 10, Dusseldorf 

26 August 2022 – 8 January 2023

‘Landscapes of Labour’, 2022, exhibition view, KAI 10, Düsseldorf. Courtesy: the artists and KAI 10

The glossy surfaces of culture have always been contingent upon nameless armies of workers and, so far, the supposedly decentralized age of cloud computing doesn’t seem to be much different. In an attempt to correct this critical blindspot, ‘Landscapes of Labour’, curated by Julia Höner, focuses on globalized production processes that often elude the political oversight of individual nation states. Ana Alenso’s installation Mad Rush Extended (2022), for instance, brings together materials from gold mines in Ghana and the artist’s native Venezuela in an effort to visualize the extraction processes underlying most computer circuitry. Meanwhile, Wang Bing’s magisterial film, 15 hours (2017), charts a gruelling shift at a clothing factory in Huzhou that churns out wares destined for the global market. While the thematic structure borders on didactic at times, the depth of the worlds conjured by the individual works, their concurrencies and disparities, rewards patient viewers.

Reinhard Mucha

K20/K21, Dusseldorf 

3 September 2022 – 22 January 2023

Reinhard Mucha, Das Figur-Grund Problem in der Architektur des Barock (für dich allein bleibt nur das Grab), 1985/2022, installation view, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf. Courtesy: © muchaArchiv; Photo: Achim Kukulies  ​

One of the most prominent German artists of the 1980s and ’90s, Reinhard Mucha has all but disappeared from the limelight in recent years. Now, with the largest presentation of the artist’s work to date, the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen offers a rare, comprehensive overview of the artist’s oeuvre. If Mucha’s practice is hard to pin down, it’s probably because it weaves together so many seemingly incompatible threads, from conceptual snark married to a love of craft to institutional critique mixed with a heavy dose of autobiography. But bylines like these only get you so far when it comes to describing the deep-seated ambivalence and everyday uncanniness that pervades so many of his sculptures and installations. While the monumental Wartesaal (Waiting Room, 1979–82) takes a critical look at West Germany’s unfaltering faith in technological progress through the lens of impersonal train station infrastructure, assemblages like Der Aufstieg (The Rise, 2007/19) casually tackle similar themes by way of his father’s library of managerial magazines. At its heart, Mucha’s retrospective is as much a ballad to as a parody of the contradictions of postwar West-German society.

Frank Bowling

Museum Ludwig, Cologne

16 November 2022 – 12 February 2023

Frank Bowling, Flogging the Dead Donkey, 2020, acrylic and acrylic gel on canvas with marouflage, 1 × 1.9 m. Courtesy: the artist and Hauser & Wirth; Photo: Damien Griffiths

This year’s Wolfgang-Hahn-Prize has been awarded to the painter Frank Bowling, and the Museum Ludwig’s accompanying show also illuminates the artist’s noteworthy biography. Born in British Guiana, Bowling migrated to the UK in 1950 at the age of 19 – pretty much the same age I left Trinidad for Germany and, looking at his colour field paintings, I often find myself trying to detect some trace of my own diasporic experiences. But Bowling came from a time before identity was such a hot commodity and, apart from the riotous colours, there’s hardly anything recognizably Caribbean about his work at all. Instead, Bowling’s paintings demand to be taken on their own terms. According to the artist, the colours for the red monochrome at the heart of the exhibition, Flogging the Dead Donkey (2020), were inspired by his experience at traffic lights, when red gives way to a moment of deep mauve. And maybe that’s as good an answer to the diasporic question as any: the sense of having experienced something no one will believe – that is, until you find a way of showing them.

Sam LaskoMoyra Davey

Clementin Seedorf, Cologne

14 October – 20 November

Sam Lasko, 'Tripod Studies on Tables', 2022, clay, ceramics, studio tables, dimensions variable. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Oskar Lee

The popular but short-lived artist-run gallery Löwengasse has since been reborn as Clementin Seedorf under the sole direction of artist Yvo Cho. For the inaugural presentation, Cho has curated a show that cleverly riffs off the new industrial space, with the scuffed-up coin faces of Moyra Davey’s ‘Copperheads’ series (1990–ongoing) mirroring the surfaces of the building’s exposed and crumbling brickwork. Meanwhile, you could be forgiven for mistaking Sam Lasko’s installation Maquettes for Times (2022) for a pile of workshop waste – if it weren’t for the meticulously cast clay details. Taken together, Davey’s and Lasko’s contributions articulate a decidedly provisional approach in dusty beiges and browns, one in which artworks aren’t so much endpoints as intervals in an ongoing cycle of circulation, consumption and excretion.

Sofia Mascate

BPA Space, Cologne

28 October – 27 November

Sofia Mascate, Timeline, 2022, oil on canvas, 40 × 70 cm, BPA Space, Cologne. Courtesy: the artist

In the modest windows of BPA project space, Sofia Mascate presents a playful, if not downright ironic, series of meta paintings based on Diego Velázquez’s portraits of Infanta Margarita Teresa of Spain and their pompous display in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum. In these textbook ‘bad paintings’, Mascate’s slapdash execution exudes an irreverent silliness that’s underscored by the inclusion of contemporary status symbols: the interior of a private jet titled Lolita Express (2022) or a detail of the princess’s dog labelled ‘Vorsicht, Hund’ (Careful, Dog). But, beneath Mascate’s whimsy, there’s a disturbingly affirmative kind of melancholy. Indeed, part of the reason Velázquez’s Las Meninas (1656) went down in history was because he used his courtly mandate to make a painting about the social situation of painting itself, thus asserting his artistic independence from the dictates of his patrons. Nonetheless, the ingratiating appeal to an unnamed authority in Mascate’s exhibition title – ‘Pick Me’ – makes you wonder whether the situation of contemporary painters is really any more ‘autonomous’ than it was back then.

Daniel Dewar and Gregory Gicquel

Jan Kaps, Cologne 

17 November 2022 – 29 January 2023

Daniel Dewar & Gregory Gicquel, Embroidered quilt with swallowtail caterpillars and butterflies, 22 punctata beetles, poppy flowers and sewing machines, 2022, embroidery on linen, cotton batting, 1.9 × 2.4 m. Courtesy: the artists and Jan Kaps, Cologne; photograph: Simon Vogel

Half a century since Lucy Lippard published Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object (1973), it’s safe to say that craft has re-established itself as a major index of artistic value. For the last 20 years or so, Daniel Dewar and Grégory Gicquel have been meditating on the sustained appeal of supposedly obsolescent production techniques. The laboriously hand-crafted sculptures on display at Jan Kaps constantly oscillate between desire and disgust: dismembered human limbs hang limp and lifeless from the polished wooden chest in Oak Cabinet with Giant Flanders Rabbit and Feet (2022) while the surfaces of the rustic stools in their ‘Oak Bench’ series (2022) are infested with elaborately sculpted snails. Amidst geometric fields of opium poppies, visitors will also find an array of the artists’ accoutrements: sewing machines, work shoes, even a flute. In a playfully self-critical turn, they seem to suggest that their obsession with craft is, ultimately, as compulsive as an addiction.

Main image: Moyra Davey, EM Copperhead No. 116, 2017, c-print on fuji colour crystal archive paper, 61 × 51 cm. Courtesy: Gallery Buchholz, Berlin

Stanton Taylor is an artist, writer and translator based in Berlin.