BASEL, Switzerland — The Liste art fair is intended to introduce new, fresh names to the fair scene in Basel. And, true, they are fresh — sometimes too fresh, so that the work seems rushed or unfinished. There are good things no doubt; Liste injects some diversity into the ecosystem of Basel where everything is almost too predictable. But, for the most part, Liste is dominated by white European art that feels very amateur and might not even have a market. The too-cool-for-school vibe of the fair seems a bit staged to be taken seriously at a place like Basel, where everything is so rigorously organized.
Most of the European galleries showing here are pretty disappointing and haven’t gotten the memo from Art Basel, and most biennials and major galleries, that post-internet art is kind of dead. (These galleries are probably following Manifesta, which is in a way indistinguishable from Liste.) There are some discoveries — perhaps not full discoveries, as these artists have been around for a while in their home regions and fairs, but are just being introduced into this pseudo-big world for the first time.
Green Art Gallery from Dubai brought site-specific works by Iranian painter Kamrooz Aram that signify a major departure from his previous work, showcased often in Art Dubai, as he’s moving away from the strictly painterly to ask more interesting questions about the violence of modernity in our visual culture and what the role of modernity is in the question of heritage. The works seem simple but are stunning, and stand somehow outside time, mixing classical, modern, and contemporary styles. Colombian gallery Instituto de Vision brought incredible work by Brazilian artist Marlon de Azambuja, one of the most dedicated artistic researchers on modern architecture, with a series of works inspired by Bernd and Hilla Becher. The gallery also exhibited work by a young Colombian painter, Sebastian Fierro, who in three years has evolved from making dark, cold aesthetic landscapes to multi-layered, textured paintings.
Estonian artists seem to be receiving more attention from the art world, thanks in part to Olga Temnikova, the charismatic dealer behind Temnikova & Kasela Gallery in Tallinn, the only gallery in the Baltics grabbing headlines and reviews here and there. Temnikova brought works by two Baltic artists: Three pieces by Estonian Kris Lemsalu that were recently in an exhibit at Tallin Art Hall dealing with the concept of beauty in a post-image world, and a couple of paintings by Latvian artist Inga Meldere that resemble mosaics and fairy tales, and are beautiful and compelling but not overtly aestheticized. At Clearing, Brooklyn-based artist Sebastian Black showed a surprising series of works; his paintings remind one of things like Constructivism, Brutalism, Cubism, etc., but from up close their arrangement is very chaotic. Popular in the US for his Puppy Paintings, this is Black’s first time showing at Basel, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he landed in the main section of Art Basel in a couple of years from now.
Another jewel at the fair was the booth of the Italian gallery Laveronica, with works by Libyan-Italian, New-York based artist Adelita Husni-Bey and Dutch artist Jonas Staal. Husni-Bay explores the relationship between architecture, urbanism, and ideological hegemony in her work “White Paper: The Land” (2014), which visualizes Cairo’s privately funded urban development plan led by the military regime called “Cairo 2050,” drawing a map of eviction and resettlement. Staal similarly looks at the relationship between art, democracy, and propaganda through large-scale projects in places like Mali or Kurdistan, chosen for their status in the international community as unrecognized. Staal is better known for his “New World Summit” project, in progress since 2012, which develops alternative parliaments (and sometimes even embassies) for blacklisted organizations, giving a radical voice to communities, new states, and political entities that are marginalized or invisible.
Traditionally, Liste has filtered galleries for Art Basel, but sometimes strange things happen: Some galleries are accepted to Art Basel Statements without Liste, and other galleries return to Liste from Basel after not being accepted again, which proves how little space there is in Art Basel for new galleries. In a way, many people are just wasting their money at Liste, competing for a future space in Art Basel that doesn’t yet exist. But young artists shown at Liste do build a relationship with the institutional sector in Switzerland, and with young energetic curators coming from all over the world to check out what’s new, as there is an overwhelming quantity of art being shown at the fair. Despite its shortcomings, Liste offers a lot of new material that is rarely shown in Western galleries, museums, and fairs, so that its diversity becomes an incredible asset.
Liste Art Fair (Burgweg 15, 4058 Basel, Switzerland) took place June 14–19.
Correction: A previous version of this article attributed the work of Adelita Husni-Bey to Jonas Staal. This has been fixed.