Fifty years ago a young art student called Nicholas Logsdail took over a small derelict terrace house in Bell Street near the Edgware Road to use as an informal place for himself and his young artist friends to show their work. Half a century later the Lisson Gallery represents more than 50 internationally renowned artists and has spaces across two continents.
Logsdail is still at the helm and the gallery still has a Bell Street address, albeit in rather more spacious premises. It also has additional buildings in the neighbourhood and two substantial spaces in New York. Yet the gallery’s founder still endearingly insists: “I only wanted to do one show for the students. I never wanted a gallery; I wanted to be an artist.”
Nevertheless the Lisson Gallery is currently marking its anniversary with an unmissable exhibition which fills three sprawling floors of The Vinyl Factory’s Store Studios at 180 Strand with works both new and historical by 24 out of the 150 or so art-titans who have shown in the gallery over the years.
Despite being wryly titled Everything At Once (the name comes from a John Cage quote), thankfully this is not an exhaustive attempt to cram all the Lisson’s activities into one show, but instead offers a rigorously orchestrated presentation of works by selected gallery artists which more than hold their own in these cavernous, Brutalist concrete spaces, while at the same time flagging up the gallery’s rich and extensive track record.
The Lisson Gallery turns 50 this year CREDIT: KEN ADLARD/© LISSON GALLERY
The first piece you encounter is a giant cast of tree roots painted gold by Ai Wei Wei. This has been paired with Odyssey, his extensive wallpaper frieze depicting human movement from ancient to modern, and both works play with and off each other to reinforce a sense of alienation and displacement. Throughout, both physical and intellectual parameters are challenged.
Dan Graham’s two-way mirrored-glass pavilion offers a seductively reflective maze, while Anish Kapoor fills an entire gallery with a giant hovering hat-cum-flying saucer called At the Edge of the World. Looking up inside this central dome involves being engulfed in a velvety crimson void that appears to extend forever like a night sky.
Some of the works are being seen here for the first and — in the case of Richard Long’s site-specific mud painting — last time. The veteran British land artist has here used his fingertips to create a rhythmically scrabbled, splattered river of Greek mud which stretches into the distance along a 60-metre wall.
Again and again the fabric of The Vinyl Factory building is brought into play, especially in another new commission from Japanese artist Tatsuo Miyajima, whose cascade of blinking blue LED numbers tumble down a pillar. Originally intended for the façade of a Hong Kong skyscraper, this electronic, illuminated, infinite torrent marks the passing of innumerable lives.
Richard Long’s mud painting
A reminder of the gallery’s early commitment to conceptual art comes in the form of Lawrence Weiner’s wall work WHOLE CLOTH STRETCHED TO THE LIMIT, which itself extends up the central stairwell to encompass all three of the building’s floors.
Ceal Floyer represents a younger generation of conceptualists with two riffs on Paul Klee’s idea of a drawing as “an active line on a walk”, one of which involves marking the floor with a football pitch line-painter and the other a sound piece broadcasting a UK telephone ‘line busy’ engaged signal.
As well as Kapoor’s dangling void, a gathering of looping, undulating works by Richard Deacon and Tony Cragg’s rusty towers of stacked machine parts both underline Lisson’s subsequent and crucial role in supporting the so-called new British Sculpture that emerged in the 1980s.
Art history is also brought firmly into the here and now with three classic projected films from Marina Abramovic from the 1970s and 80s — including one where she dances until she drops. There’s disquiet of a non-corporeal kind emanating from Susan Hiller’s monumental bank of 104 old-fashioned analogue TV screens which flicker and flash on and off as they broadcast multiple recorded accounts of near-death experiences.
Anish Kapoor, At the Edge of the World CREDIT: COURTESY LISSON GALLERY/JACK HEMS
The Lisson is also no slouch when it comes to working with the very best of younger generations of artists. Highlights here include a magical film by Egyptian artist Wael Shawky which presents middle Eastern fables gorgeously shot in colour negative and acted out by children; a sound and light installation by London artist Haroon Mirza that makes your entire body vibrate and Brooklyn- based Cory Arcangel’s four projections based on a hacked video game show.
The most recent addition to the gallery stable is the French artist and 2013 Turner prize winner Laure Prouvost, who shows a new film and hip-hop soundtrack in which she follows the dreams and desires of a group of teenagers cruising through contemporary Los Angeles.
Lawrence Weiner’s wall work, ‘WHOLE CLOTH STRETCHED TO THE LIMIT’ CREDIT: COURTESY OF LISSON GALLERY
Beyond the Strand, Lisson artists are also making their presence felt across town. Over in the Barbican’s curve space John Akomfrah is showing a new six-screen video installation – his most ambitious to date – which aims to evoke the incremental effects of climate change; and in the Lisson motherships in and around Bell Street, two very contrasting shows also offer further confirmation of the gallery’s global and inter-generational scope.
PILE UP: High Reliefs, Situated Works presents recent sculpture from Daniel Buren which find the classic French conceptual artist now presenting his signature stripes within shiny, vividly coloured wall-mounted metal sculptures of stacked cubes; while in Foreign in a Domestic Sense the Puerto Rico based artist duo Allora & Calzadilla address the problematic economic situation of their home in their sculptures of giant discarded machine remnants cast in pungent bat guano. This is art that you smell before you see.
All hail the Lisson’s enduring ability to challenge, explore and to provoke and to keep supporting the very best artists of all ages from across the globe. Here’s to another half century!
‘Everything at once’, at Store Studios, 180 The Strand, 5th October to 10th December 2017; lissongallery.com