Cologne has played host to innovation in the arts since the 1960s. Early on it had a burgeoning experimental film scene and an important electronic music studio that attracted composers from all over the world. In 1969, Germany’s most important art fair, Art Cologne, was established, and continues as an important event on the art-world calendar. Internationally-respected galleries, often with branches in New York, began to open in the city in the 1970s and were followed by several influential collectors, some of whom organised their own exhibitions under the guise of Köln Sammelt (Cologne Collects).

In the early 1980s, a number of important artists already living and working in the city, such as Polke, Richter, Georg Baselitz and Martin Kippenberger, began to receive international attention. Causing an explosion in the city’s art market, the success of these artists, along with what had become an impressive network of galleries, museums and collections, began to attract artists of stature, and critics and curators from all over the world. Cologne’s artistic community became a force to be reckoned with, on a par with those in London and New York. The city’s global importance was consolidated in 1987 by the opening of the Museum Ludwig, home of an internationally-renowned collection of art from European modernism to the present day.

There has never been a ‘School of Cologne’ as such. Unlike academy cities such as Düsseldorf, Munich and Hamburg, Cologne has never generated a tight-knit community that revolves around a single institution or the teachings of a few major artists. Rather, the artists that have chosen to base themselves in the city have a looser and broader kind of alliance, an informal network of support between those with like interests, shared from one generation to the next. Artists, critics, and musicians continue to gather in certain bars throughout the city in a meeting of minds that often lasts into the small hours.