Mira Dancy's 'Creeping Jenny' (2017) at Chapter NY gallery, Liste
Mira Dancy's 'Creeping Jenny' (2017) at Chapter NY gallery, Liste

There are now so many art fairs — 260 a year at the last official count — that convincing collectors to visit a satellite selling event is often an uphill struggle. Not so for Liste, a non-profit satellite fair to Art Basel that in its 23rd edition remains a must-see show and, with a VIP opening the day before the main event, was the first stop for many art buyers in the Swiss city this week.

Running until Sunday, Liste has become a prime place to discover artists that are on the verge of breaking into the major league. No one can be sure, of course, but the fair fuels the ultimate contemporary collecting fantasy to identify and buy artists before they are famous.

There are some convincing contenders among its 79 galleries this year, particularly from female artists. New York’s Bodega gallery has a concentrated show of works by Em Rooney, including seven steel-mounted photographs paired with text on aluminium that trace the transition of a child into adolescence ($5,000 each). Rooney, a 34-year-old New Yorker, currently has work in her city’s Museum of Modern Art’s Being: New Photography 2018 exhibition (until August 19). Other works of note at Liste include paintings based on security camera footage by the British artist Celia Hempton at Southard Reid (up to £6,500) and a set of 30 paintings on paper by the intersex American performance artist Vaginal Davis (not her real name) at Dan Gunn (€1,500-€4,000). At Oslo’s VI, VII gallery, plastic, latex and foam works by Eva LeWitt, whose father was the legendary American minimalist Sol LeWitt, show an inherited talent (up to $17,000).

“The main fair [Art Basel] is fantastic, but Liste, with its younger artists and manageable size, always feels more fun, more fresh and more interesting,” says Andrea Schlieker, director of commissions and external projects at White Cube gallery and soon to be Tate Britain’s director of exhibitions and displays, who was among the art world luminaries at the fair’s opening this week.

Artists who are known in their own countries but have yet to get an international showing are well served by Liste. At Warsaw’s Raster gallery, the young Polish artist Honorata Martin captivates with photographs and video works that all explore radical ways of dealing with loss and grief, exacerbated by the untimely death of one of her friends (up to €4,000). Other works by Martin have been bought by Poland’s Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw and she recently won the “Views 2017” Deutsche Bank Award for her contribution to an exhibition in the city’s Zachęta museum, but she has yet to have a solo show outside Poland.

There are relatively few traditional art fair booths at Liste’s venue, a former Warteck brewery just south of Art Basel on the Messeplatz, with galleries showing in corridors, quirky rooms and even on a makeshift stage. And with a large bar before you even get to any art, the fair has the feel of a high-quality student show. Experimentation is encouraged as exhibiting is relatively cheap (at least half the price of Art Basel), plus this year 10 of the fair’s galleries were subsidised through a recently founded “Friends of Liste” patronage scheme.

Exhibitors still need to make money, or at least not to lose it, which is tricky when price points start low, and the works fielded by many of the galleries this year feel more safe and subdued than in previous years. Paintings — the most risk-averse format — are in abundance, including a solo showing of 17 works by Jeanette Mundt at Berlin’s Société gallery on the makeshift stage (up to €11,000) and five painters including and chosen by Australian artist Hamishi Farah at Arcadia Missa (his work up to £4,500). The themes are not necessarily gentle — for example, all the works at Arcadia Missa are by artists of colour taking on art history’s “canon of respectable whiteness”, according to gallery founder Rózsa Farkas — but it gives the fair a gentler aspect than expected. And while Liste runs a performance programme, including a turn by Vaginal Davis on Monday, it also provides a forum to sell more commercial works by performance artists, such as Honorata Martin and Oskar Dawicki (€2,700, also Raster Gallery).

“It all feels a bit defensive this year. Taking risks clearly doesn’t pay. But where will you find risk in Basel if not at Liste?” comments the collector Alain Servais.

Alexie Glass-Kantor, executive director of the Sydney institution Artspace, feels this is as much to do with the preoccupations of artists as gallerists. “There’s a sense of vulnerability and frustrated energy in almost every booth,” she says. Liste, she adds, “helps you to know how today’s artists are changing and what’s at the base of things.”

We live in fragile times. But luckily no one has lost their sense of irreverent humour. Selling like hot cakes are glazed ceramic bowls made by the Japanese artist Urara Tsuchiya, which depict orgies between humans and animals (£2,800 each, Union Pacific gallery), as well her ceramic fountains fashioned into trees with naked frolickers (up to £9,500). “People see them and laugh straight away at the sort of friendly transgression going on — and when something gives you that much of an instant hit of happiness, but also is beautifully made, it’s a winning combination,” says Nigel Dunkley, director of Union Pacific.

To June 17, liste.ch

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