A Lisson In Time


Famed as one of the most influential and longest-running international contemporary art galleries in the world, Lisson Gallery supports the work of more than sixty international artists. Julia Millen caught up with Greg Hilty, Curatorial Director to find out more

Tell us some back history to Lisson Gallery?

Lisson Gallery can truly lay claim to being one of a small number of galleries that helped create the market, and therefore the identity, of contemporary art as we know it. The great opening up in the Sixties and Seventies from the centuries’ old practices of painting, sculpture and drawing led to a more expansive visual culture. As a young man, Nicholas Logsdail embodied that shift in 1967, when he opened his first space - both in choosing his base outside the West End and in focusing on some of the most innovative artists working in Britain, including many from around the world - Derek Jarman, Yoko Ono, Jon Latham and Li Yuan-Chia, Art & Language and the New York conceptual artists Sol Lewitt, Dan Graham and others. In one way the gallery’s history is of successive generations, from the Conceptual and Minimal artists of the 1970s to the New British Sculptors of the 1980s, to artists exploring new media in the 1990s and more politically charged multi-media practices in the 2000s.However, the Gallery’s 50th anniversary book, published in 2017, shows how complex the situation really was, how fragile and fluid these labels are, and how the gallery remained open to a plurality of voices from its earliest days and still does now.

How do you decide what art and installations to select for the space?

We currently have two spaces in New York, a small site in East Hampton, and plans to open a gallery in LA. In London, we have programmes both around our original Bell Street home and have also presented our artists in Mayfair. In China, we have a focused space in Shanghai and plan to open a further suite of rooms in Beijing. We see the programme as one, working across all these spaces as well as presenting our artists’ work in a more focused group of art fairs and continuing to provide in-depth support for their many museum and public projects around the world. This provides a huge range of opportunities to profile our artists’ work in various ways at different scales, to give our audience a sense of the full range of their work.

How has the art world changed since the gallery was established over half a century ago?

The art world is much larger and more global than it was in the 1960s. With more money circulating than ever before: the key is not to pursue ambition for its own sake but to reflect the quality of the work and the artistic vision. This can be forgotten in the rush to make things happen, and a return to sustainability must also be based on a return to artistic quality and depth.

What makes Lisson Gallery one of the most influential contemporary art galleries in the world?

We have always looked ahead - we behave with integrity and work as a single global team. We have always sought to leverage the resources the market brings with the quality our artists offer - too great a focus on one or the other can lead to shallowness on one hand and invisibility on the other. We have of course built steadily on the reputation that Nicholas Logsdail established early in his career, but both temperamentally and in business terms, he refused to allow that to direct us to being just a heritage or niche gallery. What makes art vital cannot be defined and needs to be continually reinvented. This is a business as well as an artistic position.

How do you ensure The gallery remains innovative?

The Gallery was associated in its early years with a group of young and dynamic artists who became known as founders of Minimal and Conceptual Art. They were radical and represented a huge break with the art of the past. Succeeding generations had both to learn from them while finding their own radical new direction. The so-called ‘New British Sculptors,’ for example, were profoundly influenced by the lessons of their immediate forebears yet they brought overt narrative, imagery, content, humour back into the language. Classicism and Romanticism, Symbolism and Impressionism - all generations react against dominant trends that may become stifling: neither are really opposites but together they provide a rich variety of ways of understanding and representing the world.

Which artists are you particularly excited about working with this year?

Every project has its own excitement and purpose. Anish Kapoor’s major presence in Venice this year is the culmination of a decade of significant exhibitions and development of his work; at the same time we will be showing some of his newest work in our new space in Beijing. We represent some of the most respected and influential Chinese artists, so it’s a real pleasure to start working with the young Shanghai-based multimedia artist Li Ran, who will have his debut show in New York this summer.

What’s next for Lisson Gallery?

It’s important for us to maintain an ethos and focus so that we remain a mission and not just a business - a critical guide to the best art of our time and not an emporium. The depth of our relationships is finally more important than the range

- with collectors, curators, and above all artists, so we really understand how we can support them and play our role in bringing their work to the world. At a time of national and ideological divisions, of restrictions on the free exchange of ideas, of frankly existential threats to humanity’s future, our artists offer strong voices of independent creative thought, sometimes empathetic and often challenging. We aim through our global programming to provide platforms for these voices, to enrich the culture of our time and help build future possibilities.


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