The origins of today's ART COLOGNE as a trade fair for classic modern art, post-war art and contemporary art go back to the year 1967. Kunstmarkt Köln ’67 was launched on 15 September 1967 in a historic Cologne building – the Gürzenich. In medieval times it served as an arena for festivities, banquets and dances. Later, it served as a merchants' hall.
The launch of the Kunstmarkt Köln ’67 was to have a profound impact on the international art market. The founders of the new fair were Cologne-based gallerists – Hein Stünke and Rudolf Zwirner. Their project was sparked by the urgency of the need to put new life into the lacklustre art market in West Germany. Although the immediate post-war period saw a tremendous revival in art and radical changes to public attitudes to modern art, the art market in West Germany faltered.
Paris was at the cusp of losing its central role as the capital of the modern art world and modern French art was about to lose market leadership. This occurred in the wake of documenta 2 in 1959. With the boom in modern American art, New York took over as the new art capital. At the end of the war West Germany had lost its capital city and its cultural foci. With Bonn as the new capital city, the Rhineland – an industrial powerhouse at the centre of Europe driving the West German economy and acting as a hub for the entire western European economy – took over as the centre of the West German art world.
Even today, North Rhine-Westphalia and its neighbouring federal states have very high concentrations of business and industry – and art collectors. In the early 1960s these were ideal preconditions for any art market project. Stünke and Zwirner's initial plans were of a short-term nature but their long-term aim was to promote the new art being produced by young German artists. They intended to introduce these artists to an international market and to attract new buyers to their work. They vastly exceeded their expectations – their project made history. ART COLOGNE has played a decisive role in the development of the international art market and has had a formative influence on all later art-market developments.