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Basel
06.15.06

Left: LISTE director Peter Bläuer. Right: Swiss Award winners curator Daniel Bauman and artist Maï-Thu Perret.


A few blocks away from Art Basel, which had just opened its Art Unlimited and Art Statements sections to the sound of pounding techno, LISTE's preview party kicked off at 5 PM Monday in a rock ’n’ roll style that was more beer-and-wiener than champagne-and-petits-fours. This “alternative” fair now seems out of touch with the expectations of new collectors who associate contemporary art with high-end design, fashion, and the international jet set, prompting most visitors to comment on how very “underground” the event. “Frankly, I wouldn’t know what to choose. At least at Art Basel everything is up on white walls.” No one even thought to ask which artist was behind the live broadcast of World Cup games that drew a large audience of non-art-world locals—or how much it was selling for. Looking a little lost, some young investors from Paris asked me repeatedly whether works were trendy or passé. Maybe they would have been better off heading back to the regular fair, as comforting in its way as the Parisian concept store Colette, where even the most avant-garde creations are assimilated into its “lifestyle” selection.

There is neither air-conditioning nor black VIP passes in the old Wartek brewery that houses LISTE, and the galleries and the works they’re showing are somewhat of a change of pace from the sanitized, private-jet-and-corporate-fair world of contemporary art. Easygoing fair director Peter Bläuer told me how delighted he was to host more galleries this year thanks to the “LISTE Annex,” a tent set up next to the main building. I agreed with Marc and Josée Gensollen, highbrow psychoanalyst collectors from Marseille: The annex, which gave galleries like New York’s Foxy Production and London’s Sutton Lane a chance to exhibit in Basel for the first time, is a pleasant space.

Left: Collectors Marc and Josée Gensollen. Right: Miuccia Prada.


From the basement to the attic, walking through LISTE is like making one’s way through a fascinating maze, and finding New York’s Daniel Reich, Warsaw’s Raster, and Athens’ The Breeder giving off a relaxed vibe along the way. Big-ticket sales occur less frequently here than at the main fair, but everyone manages to sell everything just the same. One example is Aloïs Godinat, a new Swiss star in the making. Fresh out of the Ecole cantonale d’art de Lausanne, Godinat won the Prix de l’assurance National, whose jury includes Adam Szymczyk (of Kunsthalle Basel) among others. Godinat isn’t even represented by a gallery, but in the National booth red dots were found next to each of his works.

I couldn’t see everything, though, as I had to run to the Swiss Awards ceremony. Every year, the federal cultural office bestows prizes to under-forty artists, critics, curators, and architects who are citizens or residents of Switzerland. In the hall across the street from Art Basel, a plethora of pre-selected artists presented works to be evaluated by a jury presided by Parkett founder Jacqueline Burkhardt. Seizing an opportunity to associate themselves with young artists, many private companies sponsored the event. There was the Kiefer Hablitzel award, the Prix mobilière Young Art award (which went to Isabelle Krieg), the Rotary Club award, and this year’s newcomer, the Georg et Josi Guggenheim award (to Philippe Decrauzat, who didn’t show up to accept it). Given the somewhat limited selection, some winners received several awards, like artist Maï-Thu Perret and curator Daniel Baumann, and the thirty-award ceremony, presented in Italian, French, and German, Switzerland’s three official languages, dragged on. As in years past, everyone was decidedly tipsy by the end, and the final recipients received only distracted applause.

Left: Artist Aloïs Godinat. Right: The Breeder gallery.


The truth is that a large part of the audience had already absconded to a nearby side street, where one could drink some local white wine. Only the stalwart brass band was still in place, sounding the trumpet every time a winner climbed up on stage to pick up their certificate. The Oscars it ain’t, but the cash prizes usually amount to at least 20,000 Swiss Francs ($16,295). This year, Marc Bauer, Thomas Galler, San Keller, Marküs Muller, Yves Netzhammer, Didier Rittener, and Elodie Pong presented strong pieces. The market reacts so quickly that some winning artists were already represented by galleries within the official art fair, like Vidya Gastaldon—a “statement” presented by Paris’ Art:Concept. Ironically, some established Swiss stars like Fischli & Weiss didn’t win. “And I even bought Jacqueline Burkhardt several beers,” confided David Weiss with a laugh.

That evening, I met Sylvie Fleury, Guillaume Sultana (of Baumet Sultana, which has a magnificent selection of Walter Pfeiffer pictures at the moment), and Nicolas Hug from design purveyor La galerie Scandinave, with whom I ended up deciding not to go to the Design Miami fair. We just couldn’t see the point in visiting seventeen known-quantity galleries to stare at €250,000 ($315,664) Prouvé tables, and chose instead to have a drink at the opening of “Improbable Classics #1,” a temporary Prada boutique designed by hometown heroes Herzog and De Meuron. Its concept is to sell special products from old collections that were never put on the market—or something like that, it wasn’t fully clear—that nevertheless exemplify “the very essence of Prada,” as Ezra Petronio put it. Petronio is the director of the Work in Progress agency and was in charge of creating packaging for this occasion along with a series of BASEL 2006 T-shirts. I loved my ten minutes of extreme shopping, during which I looked frantically for the register while listening to an energetic White Stripes/Snoop Dogg remix by Frédéric Sanchez. It was so loud that the police, no doubt alerted by neighbors, came to shut down the event much earlier than originally planned.

Left: Dealer Guillaume Sultana. Right: Swiss Award winner artist Vidya Gastaldon.


So I popped in to the traditional tavern across the street for a quick meal with Suzanne Koller, creative director of the fashion glossy Self Service, before visiting the temporary Comme des Garçons guerilla store situated near the restrooms at the Gare du Nord. But Basel’s relationship to fashion is still problematic, it seems, and a sign announced that the police (always the police!) had closed it for security reasons, bringing our evening to a premature close.

Left: Artist Sylvie Fleury. Right: Artist and model Leonor Scherrer.


Left: Galerie Scandinave Design's Nicolas Hug. Right: Artist Shahryar Nashat.


Left: Artist David Weiss. Right: Artist David Renggli.


Left: Parkett founder Jacqueline Burkhardt. Right: Foxy Production's John Thompson.


Left: Work in Progress director Ezra Petronio at Prada. Right: Fashion-show sound designer Frédéric Sanchez at Prada.


Left: Swiss Award winner artist Marc Bauer. Right: Swiss Award winner artist Didier Rittener.


Nicolas Trembley