And this year, just to spice things up, Bläuer introduced an award: a 2,000 CHF ($2,029) discount on the booth funded by a nonprofit foundation he started last year, Friends of Liste, which is given to five to ten galleries that applied with risky—and perhaps not overtly commercial—special projects. Bläuer said he wanted to make sure the whole thing didn’t scream “art fair” to visitors.
“When I realize that everyone wants to only bring paintings, I say, ‘Oh my god, I don’t want a painting art fair!’” he said. “Contemporary art is more than just painting! So I say to the galleries, ‘Please, bring also other things.’”
And in order to attract the galleries that would bring difficult work that might not sell, he had to offer them a discount in return.
“I know on the other side, it’s not an easy time,” he said.
The fair began when two then-small, now-big Zurich dealers, Eva Presenhuber and Peter Kilchmann, asked Bläuer to join them in proposing a sector for young galleries at Art Basel. It was the most powerful fair in the world, but it consistently rejected upstart galleries with new artists in their stable. Art Basel wasn’t interested in opening a sector for young galleries at that time, so the trio found a space quite different from the open-plan-style expo centers that hosted most fairs: a 19th-century red brick edifice that once housed a brewery. It’s a sprawling building that curls its way up several stories, with galleries occupying turrets at the rooftops and nooks in the basement and everywhere in between. Showing in the first edition were 36 galleries from 12 countries, including Maureen Paley from London, Jack Hanley from San Francisco, and Jack Tilton from New York.