Can a Dealer Design a More Sustainable Art Fair? Ex-Gallerist Joanna Kamm Is Taking the Reigns at Liste to Find Out

Afters 23 years, Basel's fair for young art is changing hands.

Joanna Kamm.

At a time when fairs are coming under growing scrutiny for the pressure they place on small to mid-size galleries, a former dealer who experienced the squeeze firsthand is taking over one of Basel’s best-loved fairs.

Berlin gallerist Joanna Kamm will take the helm of Liste—a fair known to showcase young dealers and emerging artists—from the fair’s co-founder and longtime director Peter Bläuer, who is retiring after 23 years at the helm. Kamm closed her Berlin gallery, Galerie Kamm, after 13 years in 2014. The Berlin art scene was shocked when the beloved gallerist opted to close her doors—and it was later seen as a sign of the tough times to come. Kamm was a regular at Art Basel and ran a well-respected program.

“As LISTE´s ‘father,’ it is now easier to let go of my ‘child’ and to entrust and pass on that child to Joanna Kamm,” her predecessor Bäuer says. He describes Kamm as sensitive and considerate but unafraid to act, “even in situations that involve possibly unpopular but necessary action.” Kamm will take up her new post on September 1. Her first edition at the helm of Liste will take place in Basel next June.

Kamm knows art fairs intimately. As a gallerist, she participated in Liste herself before she began showing at Art Basel from 2005 to 2013. “LISTE opened the door to the international art world for me,” she says. During her time as a dealer, the Munich-born gallerist also served as a member of the selection committee for Art Basel Miami Beach and a co-partner of Berlin’s preeminent art fair abc – art berlin contemporary (now called art berlin) as well as the extremely successful Gallery Weekend Berlin.

After Bläuer announced his retirement this spring, the fair’s ownership was handed over to a nonprofit foundation. Bläuer will continue to sit on the board as vice president. This summer, Liste’s six-member selection committee tasked itself with finding the right replacement: someone familiar with both the art market and the needs of galleries, as well as someone with the “courage for the unconventional.” In its online job posting, the fair said it was looking to “design new models for the promotion of galleries and their relatively unknown artists.” After weeding through 50 applications, the committee voted unanimously for Kamm.

The new director will now be tasked with leading Liste into the future in an art market that is becoming increasingly challenging for Liste’s target demographic of small, emerging, and mid-range galleries that showcase young art. Each year, around 80 galleries from more than 30 countries participate in the fair, with 15 new additions annually.

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