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The Art Cologne fair helped to establish Cologne as a new center of contemporary art. A West German dealer and a West German artist set new records at the 1969 edition of Kölner Kunstmarkt: René Block sold a work by Joseph Beuys – known later as Das Rudel – at DM 110,000, making Beuys the first West German artist to beat the one-hundred-thousand-mark mark.
In 1974, Art Cologne moved to its current location, the tradeshow halls at the district of Deutz. On this occasion the name was changed to Internationaler Kunstmarkt (IKM). Today's name Art Cologne was adopted in 1984. As the number of art fairs escalated, in the 2000s the fair lost exhibitors and collectors to competing events in London, Basel, Berlin and Miami.
With the emergence of the Berlin art scene, a bevy of remedies — special events and exhibitions, prizes and promotional gags — were devised to rejuvenate the fair, but they proved of little avail. An unattractive shift of venue within the fairgrounds and a change of dates from autumn to spring only exaggerated the unease of public and professionals alike.
In 2007, the fair was moved to April from the fall to avoid coinciding with other events. Still, Art Cologne drew just 60,000 visitors that year, 10,000 fewer than in 2006, and the 2008 edition had only 55,000 visitors.
In 2008, the fair abandoned its sister event on the Spanish island of Mallorca after just one edition and appointed Los Angeles gallery owner Daniel Hug, grandson of the Hungarian artist László Moholy-Nagy, to be its new director, part of a drive to boost attendance and win back top collectors and dealers.
The Kölner Kunstmarkt was founded by galerists Hein Stünke and Rudolph Zwirner in 1967 in an attempt to reinvigorate the weak market for contemporary art. With Bonn as the new capital city of Germany, 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. The first Kölner Kunstmarkt took place in the Gürzenich festival hall in the medieval part of the city; the following year Kunsthalle Köln was added as an additional location.