Art Basel 2015

Cigarette, Anyone? Trend Spotting at Liste, Art Basel’s Little Brother

Marlie Mul sculpture at Liste.

Marlie Mul sculpture at Liste.

The opening reception for Liste, where younger galleries exhibit work a day before Art Basel opens its doors, had much in common with an ashtray. Apparently, the trend among the world’s hipper galleries is selling cigarette butts that artists have graciously made into art. There were two sculptures by Marlie Mul at the booth of Berlin’s Croy Neilson, priced at €4,300 and €3,700, each looking like an empty flower pot after a keg party, full of butts. There were large-scale cigarette butt sculptures by Jesus “Bubu” Negron at the booth for Guatemala City gallery Proyecto Ultravioleta, selling for €9,000 and made out of—wait for it—cigarette butts. After I had left, a friend sent a picture of yet another work, gallery sadly unknown, of a canvas studded with even more cigarette butts.

(Collectors, now might just be the time to invest in cigarette butts. Recall Dan Colen’s pop up show at the old Walter de Maria studio in New York last year, in which he blanketed the floor with cigarette butt sculptures. This is not even to mention the historical precedent of Claes Oldenburg’s cigarette butt pieces from the 1960s.)

I’m not going to speculate how a smoking habit will affect the long-term health of this relatively young fair, now in its twentieth year. In fact, it’s looking pretty great despite the black lungs. Among the highlights are the booth for Berlin-based KOW gallery, which seemed to inhabit a submarine-type space on a second-floor ledge. There were a pair of very fine Chris Martins for sale for €35,000 and €30,000, and some video work by Michael E. Smith that New Yorkers may recognize from a dank SculptureCenter basement.

Were things selling? Well, booths weren’t even in a position to lie and say they’ve sold out, as it was only minutes into the fair, but things seemed to be moving along. A buyer at the Overduin & Co. booth took a look at a Will Benedict painting, inquired about the price, and then began shouting into the phone, laughing. “One-four—no, not for-tee, one-four!” Sold! And a video work by YU Honglei at Shanghai-based Antenna Space had some serious attention from two powerhouse collecting couples: the Zabludowiczs and the Rubells.

Still, it was refreshing to see at least some ambivalence toward the market. Brooklyn-based gallery Clearing presented a solo show of works by young artist Calvin Marcus, and he decided to depart quite drastically from the green ceramic chickens adorned with devilish faces that he debuted at the gallery in January. Instead, he installed a series of small houses in a dark room, rigged them with lights, and placed miniature versions of his works on the tiny walls.

“The artist would consider them uninstalled if it’s not in this darkness,” said Clearing director Olivier Babin. “This makes it hard to find the right buyer.”

They did look kind of incredible in that space, and if anyone would be willing to abide by Marcus’s wishes, Babin said he would sell a set of three works for €25,000.

There is a lot to love at Liste, though there alarmingly few women artists on display, as several people pointed out. Plus, it was really hot in there. I overheard one fairgoer describe the atmosphere as “schvitzy.”

Perhaps it was time to go out for some air, or maybe a cigarette.

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