The ground floor of the Timp. Install image © Wolfgang Zurborn.
Who says you need money to make things happen? In the year we entered a double-dip recession, one of the most imaginatively conceived shows I saw was put together on a shoestring, the brainchild of a curator who's a veteran organiser of no-budget festivals and exhibitions. The fact that it took place in the former residence of one of Germany's most infamous cabaret joints was a bonus - but also the main challenge.
Hotel Timp was something of a legend in Cologne, founded by Willi-Gleno Geloneck, who began his showbusiness career alongside his father in a well-known Vaudeville act before setting up the Gleno Sexy Show with his glamorous wife, Inge, working the casinos of the Cote d'Azur. It was there that his fascination with transvestite cabaret began, and he fulfilled his dream of opening his own venue back in Cologne, staging acts for more than 30 years at the Timp, where performances would run nightly from 1am until 4am in front of a diverse and enthusiastic crowd. After Willi underwent a heart bypass in 2008, the cabaret closed, and the building fell into disuse, placed under monument protection because of its iron ceiling, the only one left of this kind.
Two years later, Tina Schelhorn (one half of Cologne's Galerie Lichtblick and curator of Images Against War and numerous other festivals and exhibitions throughout the past 25 years), decided she could make use of the empty five-floor building. She tracked down the owner and he agreed to let her use it if she paid for the water and electricity they used. "The 1960s bar was still in there, and the hotel rooms were just empty, but they still had a water basin in the corner and a mirror, so they had a certain sad charm," says Schelhorn. She decided to run with these features and play tribute to the Timp of old with a show titled Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll, including prints from Larry Fink, Ilse Bing, Boris Mikhailov and Miron Zownir, collaborating other local gallerists, Art Nippes and Fenzkunstraum, and an army of friends and volunteers.
Another two years on, this September, she tried the same feat - only this time the building presented much more of a challenge. "It had been sold, and the new owner had already started stripping out the insides for reconstruction," says Schelhorn. "There were no doors, the walls had been taken down, there was no original bar, the walls had huge holes, and there was no electricity. It looked terrible - even to me who loves strange places."
Ian Teh's Traces looked like it was made to hang in the Timp. Install image © Wolfgang Zurborn.
She asked the new owner, a Thai restauranteur, to halt construction work for three weeks to allow them to stage a second instalment of "Pimp the Timp" and, remarkably, he agreed. Then came the near impossible task of taking out all the building rubble, putting in water and electricity, cleaning up and adding new fire doors - all in the space of a few days. But, she says, it still "looked like hell".
"I had sleepless nights thinking about how to make it into an exhibition space, until I came up with the idea of wallpapering the most rough and ugly spaces with Chinese newspaper  - and all in one week, before the opening."
The newspaper idea was born from her frustration with the lack of activities surrounding the Chinese Year of Culture in Germany throughout 2012, in which Cologne's sister city friendship had amounted to little more than "fireworks and some Peking opera beside the cathedral", says Schelhorn, who has curated dozens of shows featuring Chinese artists. "I wanted to make my point about China and all its different layers and themes."
"Linear exhibits with similar works do not interest me, so I went through all that I had seen in the last year and started to build up the show." Themed loosely around China and stories shot in hotels, she pulled in a remarkable array of work in the short time available, including a series by Ian Teh , Homer Sykes, Wang Qingsong, Nathalie Daoust and 40 or so others, printing much of the work in the days leading up to the opening.
The irony of all this is that the show was born from her determination to continue the tradition of staging photography shows to coincide with Photokina, staged just across the Rhine from Cologne's magnificent cathedral - and yet the biannual tradeshow dispensed with much of its cultural activities this time around, including its Visual Galleries dedicated to large-scale exhibitions. No doubt that's a sign of the economic times, but, says Schelhorn, who managed to put on a museum-sized show with next to no money, "This is the kind of challenge I love."
Most Popular Articles
Updating your subscription status
We have a vacancy for a Key Account Manager working on The British Journal of Photography
Magnet Harlequin, one of the UK's leading Creative Production Agencies is seeking a new Head of Photography.
We have opportunities for two experienced photographic, audio or video technicians.