Why Emerging Dealers Are Betting on the Swiss Fair Liste, Which Will Go Forward This Fall Even Without Art Basel

The fair, which usually runs alongside the now-cancelled Art Basel, is forging ahead in September on its own.

Liste 2019. Photo: Diana Pfammatter.

When Art Basel finally pulled the plug on the fall edition of its Swiss fair, the satellite events that have cropped up around it had big decisions to make.

Liste, the preeminent fair for young art that grew on the periphery of Art Basel and usually sees a huge overlap in audience had perhaps the toughest call to make. Ultimately, despite Art Basel’s cancelation, it chose to forge ahead on its own, at the behest of its dealers, and will take place September 17 to 20.

Though Liste has a particularly symbiotic relationship to the mega-fair (many of the dealers graduate from Liste onto Basel Statements within a few editions), the fair is gambling that it can still take place in September with some critical adjustments, predicting that Swiss and EU collectors will be eager to buy art on the more affordable end of the spectrum.

Fair director Joanna Kamm said the decision was in the dealers’ hands. “From several Zoom conversations with gallerists, it became clear that many wanted the fair to continue. We are a smaller event so it is easier to organize a fair and keep attendance numbers relatively low,” she says. “The choice for this fair to continue this year is really the product of young energy. The spirit of collaboration shown by our participants is truly amazing.”

The entrance to LISTE’s previous location.

Liste will look dramatically (if only temporarily) different as it relocates from its signature location at the waterfront brick factory Burgweg to a more traditional wide hall at Dreispitzhalle, in a different part of the city. Moving was important given the charming and cramped hallways that snake through its usual location. Kamm says it would have been nearly impossible to ensure proper social distancing and proper entrances and exits. Around 300 people will be allowed in the September iteration at a time, though this number may grow depending on the Swiss authorities’ recommendations.

The number of exhibitors is going to be halved, down to 35 participants from 77 last year. Many are unable to physically attend the fair due to ongoing travel bans. The vast majority of those who are attending will travel from within Europe. Others who cannot attend may be “hosted” by the galleries who are able to, in a sort of Condo-like format. How consignments and sales will work is to be decided by individual galleries and their hosts.

Booth prices have also been dramatically slashed, a measure that Kamm said was important to support the galleries, but is untenable in a normal year as it is leaving the fair in the same economic situation it would be in had they canceled. But, if the fair is called off due to the ongoing health situation, depending on how far along planning was, dealers may not see all their money back.

Dealers told Artnet News that they were encouraged by Liste’s willingness to adapt their scale and format to suit the needs of the time. “It was an offer we couldn’t refuse, since we haven’t expected that this year’s edition of Liste would happen,” says Oliver Falk of the Basel-based gallery Weiss Falk. Though deciding to attend was easy for his gallery, he said he was particularly attracted to the downsized version. “Everybody is desperate to find a new normals after the Covid-19 crisis and the lockdown. We think Liste is a perfect moment to start learning  how this new normal could and will be.” The gallery will be showing new works by Swiss painter Tina Braegger.

Lisa from LC Queisser in Tbilisi, Georgia, said that it was an arduous process to hammer out a new fair format, but that it was worthwhile. “I’m curious to see how these new structures might change our perception of today’s fair concept in general,” she says.

Other dealers who had higher stakes decided it was not worth the risk. One dealer told Artnet News that though they “love” Liste as a regular participant, the threat of a second wave of coronavirus was too great and the collectors they spoke to are not planning to travel to Basel without the mainstay fair nearby.

That may not matter, given the wealth and savvy collector scene that exists in Basel, Zurich, and the Engadin Valley year-round. With its airy new location and crowd-controlled VIP days taking place each day of the fair to space out guests, many dealers are banking on the fact that collectors from the region will almost certainly come visit.

Kamm adds that it is vital for collectors to come to get to know young artists in person. “It is especially important for emerging artists’ works to be experienced physically. Online platforms tend not to be so easy for artists who are not already established,” she says, adding that Basel-based collectors and the surrounding museums were pushing for the fair to take place.

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