‘We have to follow the artists…’ In conversation with Joanna Kamm, LISTE Director

Maria Markiewicz met with Joanna Kamm, director of Liste Art Fair Basel and one of our Allegro Prize jury members. The two spoke about Liste 2022, the importance of supporting young artists and gallerists, and what Joanna is hoping to see in Allegro Prize submissions.

Maria Markiewicz: We are meeting less than two weeks before Liste 2022 is about to start. How are you feeling and how are these two weeks going to look like for you?

Joanna Kamm: For us [the Liste team], this is actually the best time of the year. We’ve worked very hard throughout the year; there was a lot of planning involved, a lot of organisation, and now things are finally beginning to take shape. Everyone is excited!

MM: I feel like excitement is a prevalent feeling throughout the whole art world this year. Would you say that we are slowly getting back to where we were before the pandemic?

JK: You can feel a general excitement and that people are looking forward to traveling and visiting fairs again. Everyone is longing for a sort of normality to come back…

Luckily, in Switzerland, there are no strict Covid-19 measures or restrictions anymore – everything seems more or less back to normal. This year, we are again located in Messe Basel, close to Messeplatz – a decision we had to make back in October 2021. Because this location offers a more generous amount of space to our visitors, it makes it easier to react more flexibly if the current health and safety measures would change.

When we were working on this project, we asked ourselves this question: How can the architecture transfer the idea of community that is so crucial for Liste?

MM: We’re talking about your new space, and it brings me to the new architectural design of Liste, also something that you’ve implemented last year. Could you tell me a bit more about it?

JK: When we were working on this project, we asked ourselves this question: How can the architecture transfer the idea of community that is so crucial for Liste? Liste is a very important place for many galleries: it’s a place where young gallerists often meet for the first time and become friends for their whole careers. That’s why I’ve asked one of my favourite architects, the Belgian architectural firm OFFICE Kersten Geers David van Severen, to collaborate with us on Liste’s design, and they’ve proposed this idea of the circle – I was immediately convinced by this, because the circle allows integration; it’s this shape that everyone can be a part of.

Liste Art Fair 2022

MM: The new architectural design is based on an all-connecting circular stand that’s built around the Sculpture Piazza. I must say that this idea seems very radical for an art fair!

JK: Liste has a different pricing system than many other fairs – we’re not pricing our gallery stands by square meter, we’re basing our prices on how many times the galleries have participated, how old the gallery is and so on. Since we don’t have to sell sqm, we have flexibility that allows for experimenting with the architectural design.

MM: Since 2021, Liste consists of three formats: Liste Art Fair Basel, Liste Showtime Online, and Liste Expedition Online. What can the visitors expect to see in each one of them?

JK: In 2020, everyone was thinking about what one can do with the digital space… That year, we had to cancel the fair and after virtual meetings with the galleries, we decided on Liste Showtime, a new format, which, for us, is a way of extending the idea of discoveries – it’s a mix between a sales platform and a magazine. Last year, we’ve also opened this online space for galleries that aren’t taking part in the main fair to expand it a little bit, and then this year, we’ve decided to bring it closer to the physical edition: it’s for all these people who can’t come to Basel.

Both Liste Art Fair Basel and Liste Showtime Online are temporary. Liste Expedition, our third format which we launched last December, is our first permanent online format, that is non-commercial – it’s not a sales platform. We’ve set it up as a way of an artist index that also functions as an archive: all Liste Showtime entries can be found there, and so it will grow every year. It complements our temporary formats and acts as a research platform.

Piktogram Gallery, Zuza Golińska's work, Liste Art Fair 2022
Piktogram Gallery, Zuza Golińska’s work, Liste Art Fair 2022

MM: You often mention community and support as playing an important part in Liste – two things that seem to be at odds with the harsh reality of the art world. Why are they so important in what you do?

JK: We are the fair for the young generation – for many of our gallerists, this is their first fair they’ve ever done. We’re also very international – we’re bringing together galleries and visitors from all over the world. It all makes a big difference…

MM: Why this focus on young artists and gallerists?

JK: I think the most important thing in life is to be curious… What young artists and gallerists are showing is new – they are giving us a new understanding and new values, a different perspective to look at the world. At Liste, you can get confronted with this, and I think this is very important. Sometimes people get irritated when they are confronting something that is new, unknown, but that’s the only way that things can change. In times when there is so much uncertainty, art can teach you a way how to deal with it.

Temnikova & Kasela gallery, Liste Art Fair 2022
Temnikova & Kasela Gallery, Liste Art Fair 2022

MM: This year at Liste, there are also a lot of initiatives supporting Ukraine and young Ukrainian artists…

JK: We have a lot of Eastern-European galleries that are showing at Liste, and they’ve immediately approached me after the Russian invasion of Ukraine… We’ve started a WhatsApp group and began discussing what we can do to support the Ukrainian people and the art scene. Some of them asked whether they could integrate Ukrainian artists within their presentations, we have also organised a call to donate and will present a film programme with Ukrainian artists. At the same time, our two Russian galleries suggested inviting two Ukrainian galleries, Voloshyn and The Naked Room, to take over their stands as an act of solidarity. There really is an incredible sense of support from the galleries’ side.

MM: Liste 2022 will be your fourth one as its Director. What have you learnt about the art market over these four years?

JK: The last three years have been far from normal. In this crisis, it has been the greatest lesson for me to see how much support there was. Of course, in the art market, there is always competition involved, but I felt like in these special times it wasn’t as important; what was important was supporting each other. It’s almost as if everyone decided that they can gain more by collaborating.

I’m also glad that the collectors continued to buy and support art, even if it was only possible via the digital realm. That’s why the galleries managed to survive these years pretty well – I was very relieved to observe this.

Madragoa Gallery, Liste Art Fair 2022
Madragoa Gallery, Liste Art Fair 2022

MM: This year, you are also on the jury panel of our Allegro Prize. What are you hoping to see in the submissions?

JK: It’s always very interesting for me to see art from around the world, I’m sure there will be much to discover! I expect to get to know and experience a lot of new developments.

MM: If Liste is not only focused on the present but is also creating it, what present are you creating and what would you like to see more of in the future?

JK: No one knows what the future will look like, but I can certainly say this: we have to follow the artists… 

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About The Author


Freelance art writer and curator with an interest in gender and queer theory. Having completed her BA at Central Saint Martins and her MA at Goldsmiths, University of London, she now collaborates with different art organisations worldwide. As a cultural theorist and a researcher, she has published a number of essays on art that is socially and politically engaged, analysing it in regards to sexuality studies and psychoanalysis.

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