Fair comment: Liste 06
by Douglas Gimberg
The Liste art fair has been constructed, under the guiding hand of Peter Bläuer, into one of the world's most successful fairs specifically for the work of young artists. The fair is situated near to Art Basel and runs concurrently. Switzerland's Art Basel is the largest annual art fair in the world and Liste is obviously co-ordinated to capitalise on the hype and subsequent flooding of Basel with art buyers, dealers, collectors, curators, directors and perhaps even a few people that just like art.
Participation in Liste requires that the gallery submitting a proposal is no older than five years and the artists they propose are no older than 40. The results of these specific limitations are interesting because the implication is that no artist who is not affiliated with a gallery can be involved, and that artwork is there to be sold and not showcased.
The purpose of the fair is not necessarily, as one might expect, to cultivate an artist's career through the exposure of their work to a viewing public. Its purpose is to expose the work and/or artist to an international market. Essentially, Liste aims to provide galleries not located near the centre of 'the art world' (read 'art market') with a door into this world.
This year's event hosted 59 galleries from 24 countries. Apart from five exceptions, all participants were European and American, which we in South Africa hardly consider to be far from the centre of 'the art world'. Admittedly, however, this illusive 'centre' is not only geographical. The selection committee advocates and advertises participation of galleries from all parts of the world in order to bring foreign galleries to a place where there is hopefully a lot of attention from people involved in large collections and large-scale international shows - those of the kind with which artists might prefer to be involved. Failing that, at least there is a lot of money floating around and if an artist's gallerist happens to be a good salesperson, and knows the quality or qualities of their product, then quite a bit of money can be made.
The fact that Liste and Art Basel (as well as other sideshows like Bålelatîna and Volta) are fairs as opposed to exhibitions, impacts significantly on the presentation of the art, either individually or collectively. There is no noticeable curation whatsoever and there is little sensibility towards the spaces, either on the part of the organisers or the gallerists.
The building that houses the fair, once the Warteck Brewery, is usually home to a community centre for the practice of arts and dance (among other things). For the fair's duration, the maze of rooms is converted into a complex of off-white cubes, spaces are shaped to fit, and every available niche from the halls to the little glass box on top of the building's tower is adapted and filled. Gallerists enter their allocated cubicles and put up their wares (or have their assistants do it) and thereafter they sit and tend their store for the following six days from 1pm - 9pm. When they are not tending, hopefully they are networking. The concentration of (presumably) similarly motivated people is ideal for creating relationships, or at least contacts, with artists and galleries that might be of benefit in the future.
It is very difficult to judge work in a context such as that of Liste, but it does not really suffice to merely say there was lots of it. It is what one would expect of a relatively aimless random collection: there is some strong work and there is inevitably weak work. It is very hard to establish whether an artist is at least committed to their work (regardless of its quality) when there are seldom more than two examples of their work present. That is fine if the only aim is selling work, but falls short if the intention is to reflect the integrity of an artist.
A few of the stands had solo shows and others occupied their spaces in interesting manners, such as one of the two 'special guests' (not that I did not consider myself both 'special' and a 'guest' while occupying Liste spaces in an interesting manner - I just did not get credited as such in the Magazine). Kaskadenkodensator, a project group/ group project, employed a few relatively willing youth to kinetically power a bar and/ or nightclub in their allocated off-white cube with the work titled Party Manual. Additionally, Swiss (low brow) artist and cartoonist Remy Keller converted the highest tower into a pop death Heaven. This comprised a Jacob's ladder of a few hundred narrow stairs ending in a bar with an amazing 360-degree view of Basel, decorated in a fantastic collection of paper sculptures and a spinning Elvis.
The performative or event-based works such as Waiting for a bus by Ahmet Ögüt, and Seb Patane's Absolute Körperkontrolle were enacted in the entrance courtyard. Performances are quite nice in a forum like this because people cannot look at them from the point of a buyer: there is seldom anything to sell, which makes them seem nice and clean. Incidentally, Liste pays for all expenses involved with a performance including accommodation for the artist as well as travel to and from Basel.
The fair is currently in its 11th year of existence and is obviously still expanding and prospering. The addition this year of the 'tent' (as many of the world's finest architects would, no doubt, cringe to hear me call it) in order to provide an additional 10 exhibition stands is testament to this. There is incredible support for art and artists in Switzerland, which will no doubt ensure that Liste will be a growing event for some time to come and will continue to act as a gateway for artists into Basel/ Art Basel.
'Liste 06' took place in Basel, Switzerland, from June 13 to June 18, 2006.
Douglas Gimberg attended 'Liste 06' to install and de-install exhibitions for artists Julia Rosa Clark, Ruth Sacks and Bridget Baker. 'Just say I'm not nice,' is his reply for a one-sentence bio.