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Peeking through the booths’ horizon

On Liste Art Fair 2024.

One can say many things against art fairs, but the opportunity to visit hundreds of galleries and engage with artists from around the globe is alone a compelling reason for their existence. These experiences are even more compelling when they seek to adapt to new artistic practices and market demands. This year's Liste Art Fair in Basel continues to fulfill this mandate, maintaining its role as a significant counterpart to Art Basel while navigating high expectations and emerging challenges.

Liste was established almost 30 years ago to provide an alternative to Art Basel, and it has consistently risen to the occasion. However, the emergence of Basel Social Club, an event driven by local interests and young gallerists exploring non-traditional practices, further raises the bar and presents new challenges. Basel Social Club's allure lies in its performatively agile, mysterious, non-art-fair approach, in turn pushing Liste to redefine its own identity while preserving its essence.

Fig. 1

Caught between the multinational giants and cutting-edge scenemakers, Liste faces the toughest of tasks: to present a nuanced platform within which a discursive program can thrive, and where art collectors seek to navigate precarity, amateurism, second-row positioning, and intellectual autonomy, and where curatorial practices break free from the monotonous white walls that regularly standardize art for viewers. This year, the absence of Joana Kamm, who adeptly balanced the variety of galleries alongside her curatorial interests, is deeply felt. For example,Kamm’s approach often included playful architectural displays that enlivened the otherwise sterile environment of the fair.

While strolling around Liste, I heard someone note the following point: "The problem with the architecture now is that you feel you have seen everything, although you don’t see anything at all." The move of the project from its disused brewery venue, with its quirky corners and packed rooms, to a more conventional space, namely the back hall from the Messe Platz, has left a kind of spiritual void. The new venue lacks the charm that once captivated audiences weary of high-priced artworks shown in conventional settings. Nevertheless, this transition reflects a broader challenge within the art market: the need to create spaces that are dynamic and inviting, and filled with the creative efforts of emerging galleries.

Fig. 2

Nikola Dietrich, who will be taking over as director in September, faces a monumental task. With her background as director of the Kölnischer Kunstverein and head curator for Contemporary Art at the Kunstmuseum in Basel, Dietrich must now blend her established networking and curatorial skills to support Liste’s mission. Her role is pivotal in ensuring that Liste continues to foster innovation while simultaneously engaging with the local art scene and new forms of collaboration. Intersections between the fairs are many, and an open exchange of conversations, performances, and further public events remain unexplored to date.

Fig. 3

Despite calls for more creativity and openness, the art fairs’ public programs remain a crucial platform for showcasing daring and experimental works. This year’s fairs also feature artworks that address material and socio-political concerns, clearly addressing the role of the arts in the world. At Art Basel Statements, a further inter-fair intersection, La Chola Poblete at Barro, Tamara Al Samerraei at Marfa Projects, and Monique Mouton at Bridget Donahue Gallery were featured, the viewer finds examples of spaces one would like to inhabit. It was especially exciting to enter the oasis of quietness and reflection upon the dynamics of global capitalism and traditional crafts that Vitamin Creative Space from Guangzhou offered, exhibiting an impeccable presentation of paintings on silkscreen by Hao Liang. The emptiness here was sublime.

Fig. 4

Back in the other hall at Liste, there are fewer spaces, but many pieces challenging conventional modes of presentation. One example can be found in Eliška Konečná’s works by Polansky Gallery (Prague). The works explore human connection by using padded fabric reliefs depicting interlocking bodies in various states of rest and trance. Anousha Payne, presented by Galerie Sperling (Munich), merges personal experience with dreamy folklore, creating ceramics that speak to the quest for spirituality. Payne’s works are adorned with fabric, stones, or reptile skin. Øleg & Kaśka, at Suprainfinit Gallery (Bucharest), use mystical themes in their paintings to provoke discussion about philosophical and alchemical concepts. They deploy playful imagery, such as skeletons pondering their next move under a reddish-brown sky. Oscar Enberg's sculptures at London’s Brunette Coleman confront the past’s influence on memory through symbolic compositions which feature traditional buttons on stucco rosettes, reflecting anachronisms. Carrie Bencardino’s "Naked City" series at PIEDRAS (Buenos Aires), draws inspiration from 1980s club culture, depicting the raw emotional states of night-dwelling characters, and evoking a profound synesthesia that captures the ambient sound of underground parties.

Fig. 5

Alejandra Hernández at LaVeronica delves into the multidimensional female experience, blending oneiric and everyday elements to create immersive spaces that resist the fast pace of modern life. Her work connects human experience with the natural world, exploring themes of creation, altered states of consciousness, and the symbolism humans attach to animals and plants. Corrado Gugliotta, founder of LaVeronica, also brings the Palestinian struggle within the maze of booths, blazoning his chest with a pin of the Palestinian flag. A reminder that the art market cannot be alienated from political demands, but, indeed, can fuel them. In his own words: "Everyone should keep to their roles and do it well, but not forget for what we are coming together”. Certainly more than sales.

Fig. 6

Liste Art Fair 2024 strives to maintain its relevance by attempting to balance commercial viability and artistic integrity. This is a difficult endeavor, especially in the shadow of a hyperbolic art market. Nikola Dietrich’s upcoming directorship will be pivotal in addressing these issues and restoring the fair's unique identity. As Liste navigates these challenges, its future will depend on its ability to innovate without losing sight of its core values and distinctive appeal, i.e.: remaining grounded while keeping an eye on economic and cultural models that emerge beyond the fair’s booths.


Fig. 7

  • Liste Art Fair Basel runs until Sunday, June 16, 2024.


    Image Credits

    Cover Image: Alexandra Hernández, Wild eyes; oil on canvas, 2023. Courtesy of LaVeronica.

    Fig. 1: Margaret Raspé, Regentrommeln (Raindrums), 1988/2023, installation view, at Basel Social Club 2024. Photo: Stefan Burger. Courtesy Galerie Molitor.

    Fig. 2: Oleg & Káska installation view at Suprainfinit. Courtesy of the gallery.

    Fig. 3: Nikola Dietrich upon election as the new artistic director of Liste Art Fair Basel, and Conradin Cramer, President of the Government and Head of the Department of Presidential Affairs. Photo: Moritz Schermbach. Courtesy of Liste Art Fair.

    Fig. 4: Tamara Al-Samerraei’s installation at Art Basel Statements 2024 with Marfa’ Projects. Courtesy of the gallery. 

    Fig. 5: Anousha Payne, Large Khur, 2024; glazed stoneware ceramic, pewter, stone, bronze. Courtesy of Sperling.

    Fig. 6: Monique Mouton, Leaflet, 2024, Mural-grade acrylic, vinyl paint and charcoal on paper
    6 sheets: overall dimension:351.16 cm x 10.67 cm. Courtesy of Bridget Donahue.

    Fig. 7: One of Carrie Bencardino’s "Naked City" series at PIEDRAS. Installation view. Photo: AWC.




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