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LUXURY PROBLEMS
by Stefan Kobel
 
Liste 15, the Young Art Fair in Basel, June 15-20, 2010, is confident. "Not only do we have the best collectors," said Liste director Peter Bläuer, "but we also get all the museums." And he is right. The vernissage was packed, and the lines to get in are long. Even the VIPs are waiting, though not without a certain incredulity. Art Basel directors Annette Schönholzer and Marc Spiegler had to wait, as did collectors Susan and Michael Hort and the Rubell family.

What they waited for is clearly different from last year’s offerings. Painting is back with a vengeance, and drawings, formerly the favorite of collectors, are less in evidence. Oliver Croy of the Berlin gallery Croy Nielsen says that this is just a coincidence, and assures me that his program is not determined by "what we think will sell." On the other hand, he noticed the return of a certain frantic feeling, especially on the first day, and admitted with some surprise that, despite the economic crisis, the fair "is going better than anticipated."

But this shouldn’t be a surprise. The upper end of the art market is strong, after all, and the exhibitors at Liste are the "crème de la crème" of up-and-coming galleries. "Art is also a fashion phenomenon," observes Bläuer, "and big collectors follow the young galleries, too." Among the lucky ones is Plan B, which has branches in Berlin and in Cluj, Romania. Gallery director Mihai Pop has buyers for a large, enigmatic painting by the Romanian artist Adrian Ghenie (b. 1977), priced at €65,000, but he wants to be sure to place the work in the right collection. This is what some people would call a "luxury problem."

Many works have a lower price point, like Marieta Chirulescu’s unique monochromatic prints on canvas, which go for around €1,600 at Galerie Micky Schubert from Berlin. This is another result of the economic crisis: Art is affordable again. Bläuer says that this is nothing new. "We have always been an affordable art fair, which is a smart strategy. The policy encourages our galleries to show young artists." In any case, Liste was able to fill all its spaces, Bläuer said, "except for one that had financial difficulties." At the last minute, the New York dealer Daniel Reich was unable to come, though he is listed in the catalogue.

The New York gallery Taxter & Spengemann is at Liste with a presentation that is almost as minimal as Reich’s. In their booth is a single work, Community Action Center, a 70-minute-long video collaboration by activist artists A.L. Steiner (b. 1967) and A.K. Burns (1975), who are both founders of W.A.G.E., a new group that advocates paying artists for exhibiting their works. The "queer feminist socio-sexual video" is a series of porno vignettes set to a soundtrack with songs by Chicks on Speed, Effi Briest, I.U.D., Lesbians on Ecstasy, MEN and other groups. "Nothing like this has ever been made before," says Pascal Spengemann, who plans to present the video in New York in September in the new T&S space at 459 West 18th Street in Chelsea.

Liste has 11 galleries from Germany among its ca. 60 participants, more than usual, and all are from Berlin save for Galerie Karin Günther, who is based in Hamburg. Of course, for art galleries, being from Berlin does not necessarily mean that you are from Berlin -- as both Chert-Berlin and Supportico Lopez have, for instance, Italian roots.

Bläuer is happy with his fair, but he notes that "one must always be vigilant" and take care to define oneself "as a contributor and not as a satellite." Still, because of the "mother fair," i.e. Art Basel, one is forced to make constant changes. "We have the good fortune that Art Basel steals the best galleries from us," he explains, which helps keep Liste to its profile of young galleries.

Speaking of the main fair, otherwise known as Art 41 Basel, June 16-20, 2010, it long ago made its own space for "emerging artists" and "rising galleries" -- the smaller "Art Statements" booths, typically devoted to solo shows by unfamiliar artists from newer galleries. This year, the section seems to have benefited from a special effort to make bold presentations.

Alte Neue Brücke from Frankfurt/Main, for instance, had its stand designed as a bizarre hotel lounge with a saloon-like bar, an endless row of guest books and replica hams hanging from the ceiling, courtesy of artists Claire Hooper (b. 1978) and Simon Fujiwara (b. 1982). For this they were awarded the CHF 30,000 Baloise Art Prize, which must be old hat to Fujiwara, since he took home the £10,000 Cartier Prize from the Frieze Art Fair just last month.

Overall, this section of Art Basel is more exciting than "Art Unlimited," the fair’s warehouse-sized outlet for the super-large solo projects by global art stars. One can find the less-than-exciting Igloo project from 1994 by Mario Merz, courtesy Konrad Fischer Galerie, Düsseldorf, and the noisy and overwhelming film installation Überwältungskunst by the American artist Doug Aitken, sponsored by Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Victoria Miro Gallery and Regen Projects together. Then again, Art Unlimited features magnificent works from the past, such as Otto Piene’s Lichttraum, a retrospective installation by the 82-year-old artist of works made between 1961 and ’81. The installation is underwritten by Skulpturengalerie Löhrl from Mönchengladbach.

The galleries Bärbel Grässlin from Frankfurt and Christian Nagel from Cologne and Berlin joined together to sponsor Michael Beutler’s giant workshop and warehouse for useless, oversized cardboard spirals. And Michelangelo Pistoletto installed a sizeable chest-high labyrinth made of corrugated cardboard rolls. Such things make the notion of "art unlimited" rather exciting. More, please.

Translated from the German by Christa Blissett.


STEFAN KOBEL is associate editor of Artnet.de Magazin, and reports on the art market.