Art Basel Report Part II: Liste 18

By Stephanie Bailey  |  Basel, 17 June 2013

The work on show at Art Basel’s Statements section and at the eighteen-year-old art fair known until this year as ‘LISTE – The Young Art Fair in Basel,’ tends to exude a sense of evolving maturity edged with the malleability of youth. In fact, the similarities and connections between Art Statements and LISTE are evident. Much of LISTE’s focus has been about solo presentations (this year, 29 solo presentations out of 66 participating galleries from 22 countries) and, until recently, artists under 40 (though the 40-mark has since changed); just as Statements is dedicated to solo presentations of emerging artists by younger galleries. 

Set up as an alternative to Art Basel in 1996, LISTE’s aim was to provide a space for upcoming generations of gallerists and artists (the first year showed 36 galleries from 12 countries). Traditionally, it is seen as a stepping-stone to Art Basel, with participating galleries ‘graduating’ to Art Basel usually via Art Statements and Art Features, though this doesn’t necessarily guarantee a place in the Galleries section of Art Basel thereafter. It’s a growing process, you see – how one moves up in ‘The Art’. It’s a hard graft. But Air de Paris did it, as did The Modern Institute, David Zwirner, Casey Caplan and Emmanuel Perrotin; all LISTE veterans.

The wider link between Art Basel and LISTE (as art fairs) was visualized this year in the work of Matt Connors, showing two monumental (but subtle) interpretations of the minimalist frame at Art Unlimited, in which a large white slab of exhibition wall leaned against a coloured wall (orange or blue) acting as its support. The installations come courtesy of Cherry & Martin, presenting a stellar booth at Art Features in Art Basel by artist Robert Heinecken. In conversation, Michael Auder (currently showing at the Kunsthalle Basel alongside solo exhibitions of works by Polina Olowska and Tercerunquinto respectively) noted how great it was to see Connors’ work in such a scale. I agreed, especially after having seen a small, Connors painting at LISTE 18 showing at Luttgenmeijer – a totally different experience of the artist’s work.

LISTE tends to enable experiences of art objects of a particular scale and form, despite the art fair context. That is to say, at this fair, gallery spaces share rooms and ‘spaces’, rather than a massive convention hall or tent crudely divided into booths and isolated from the city entirely. Werkraum Warteck pp at 15 Burgweg, the industrial space that hosts LISTE, is one of the key factors setting this fair apart. The space provides a more natural, organic setting to present contemporary art objects in that the building has a soul. (The outdoor bar and barbeque, a regular fixture of the fair, also helps induce a more endearing, familial setting.)

Now known as ‘LISTE – Art Fair Basel’, LISTE 18 was good (though it had its low points, just as did VOLTA, a fair dedicated to new and emerging art staging its 9th edition this year). There were interesting juxtapositions and off-centre moments, including a pairing of two painters and two galleries in one room; Nel Aerts presented by Vidal Cuglietta and Leidy Churchman at Silberkuppe – the kind of layout that always makes this fair an interesting one to visit.

Inspiring group showings included a wonderful trio of artists presented by Romanian space, Sabot; Mihuț Boşcu Kafchin, Stefano Calligaro and Radu Comşa and LISTE ‘special guests’, The House of Electronic Arts in Basel, presenting a selection of new media and electronic art including Ulu Braun’s 2013 video collage, Vertikale – cinema and documentary clips cut together to exist in a state of continuous ascendance – described as ‘a symbolic journey from the deep sea to the peaks of human civilization’. It was brilliantly installed in the stairwell, making the walk up the 166 steps to the Milk and Wodka roof bar all the more profound.

Overall, solo presentations shone at LISTE. Ibid. showed Rallou Panagiotou’s sculptures produced from marble, leather, wood and other materials, including marble straws titled Liquid Degrade; Hunt Kastner selected works by Basim Magdy, an artist recently announced as an Abraaj Capital Prize winner and whose work proved to be a highlight of the 11th Sharjah Biennale; Aoyama/Meguro showcased Koki Tanaka, currently representing Japan at the 55th Venice Biennale; and Huber offered up a streamlined selection of conceptual work comprised of text-based and sculptural elements by Rita Sobral Campos. The freshest installation was hands down Elias Hansen at Jonathan Viner, an incredible group of assemblages produced from common objects – glass tubes, vases, found light fixtures and so on, presented as a numbered series (1 to 11), each title containing a certain nugget of truth, from It ain’t like I could’ve to It wasn’t really worth bringing up, and A handful of nothing.

Yet whether or not Art Statements should be more like LISTE, the question of whether ‘The Art’ should give more space to emerging galleries and artists is an important one.

In general, LISTE does feel like an expanded version of Art Statements. Or maybe, it feels like what Statements should be more like. During a conversation with a few art world veterans, someone suggested that Art Statements should be bigger, touching on the issue that Statements may be Art Basel’s weakest link. Reasons for this fell mainly to the fact that the sector is positioned next to Art Unlimited, the place for large, monumental works, and also due to the fact that Statements is relatively small in terms of space and number.

Yet whether or not Art Statements should be more like LISTE, the question of whether ‘The Art’ should give more space to emerging galleries and artists is an important one. It became more pertinent on Saturday (the fair’s penultimate day), when an incident took place around Tadashi Kawamata’s Favela Café, situated on the Messeplatz outside of Hall 2. A group of young people came to the area and essentially ‘occupied’ a section of Favela Café by producing an extension to Kawamata’s working installation. They blasted reggae, engaged in communal art making, and generally did what most ‘kids’ tend to do when they feel somewhat rebellious. The impromptu intervention caused a ‘riot’. The police were called in; the kids were asked to leave; there was tear gas and rubber bullets.

I recall walking past this little party and wondering if this was part of the whole Favela Café piece; reasoning that even if it wasn’t, it was healthy to see some sort of gentle antagonism coming from the younger generations who have grown up around ‘The Art’. Besides, what’s so bad about a group of young people expanding on an artwork by engaging, critiquing and intervening? Their attempt at critique was harmless, albeit messy. And it should be stated that the punishment and reaction against this happening was disproportionate (this seems to be the done thing in the world right now).

But in thinking about how much space should be given to the younger generations in the business of ‘The Art’ and what space should be given to emerging artists and galleries within Art Basel’s highly-prized halls, we must also think of how to include the younger generations into the very conversations ‘Art’ considers itself to be a part of.

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