Prestigious and internationally renowned with art spaces in London and New York, and an impressive, unrivaled portfolio of iconic artists. Yes indeed, that’s Lisson.
Now in its sixth decade of being at the vanguard of contemporary art, Lisson Gallery is celebrating a half-century legacy with a huge exhibition and an equally huge publication to match. Ossian Ward, Lisson’s Head of Content, has treated us to this exclusive interview in which he tells us a bit about the gallery’s history and its passion for books.
Happy 50th birthday to you, Lisson Gallery!
What sets Lisson apart from other galleries?
“Having focussed on conceptual art since its first shows in 1967, Lisson Gallery’s reputation is one of seriousness and an almost institutional reverence, none of which is inaccurate but these are all generalisations. Our founder, Nicholas Logsdail would not want such a narrow vision for his gallery, not only do we work with more than 50 individual artists currently but he would hate it if we didn’t also have a sense of humour.”
Where has publishing resided in the Lisson vision since the late 1960s? And has the gallery’s impetus and approach to making books changed?
“The first shows between 1967 and 1970 – for artists such as Li Yuan-Chia, Ken Cox, John Latham, Bob Law and Yoko Ono – were all accompanied by books or publications of some kind, although Richard Long’s 1972 ‘Two sheepdogs cross in and out of shadows’, which preceded his first gallery show, was the first official book published under the Lisson Gallery imprint. In a sense, we are still quite reactive and responsive to the shows we stage, only occasionally looking longer term at an artist’s practice.”
When you make a book, how involved is the artist in the creative process? Do you have any particular favourite examples of when it’s worked really well?
“Any book made by Richard Long is a collaborative process and other artists such as Peter Joseph also exert a similar influence on the outcomes, having already gained years of experience in designing and laying out their own books. My personal favourite was for Liu Xiaodong’s first London show, Half Street, which included his beautiful diaries of what it was like to work in London, an essay I wrote about what it was like hosting this great painter in my hometown and an amazing documentary DVD produced by the filmmaker Sophie Fiennes inside the back cover, which documented the entire process.”
Lisson’s new magnum opus publication, ARTIST | WORK | LISSON celebrates 50 years of the gallery. A big project, it must’ve been a huge undertaking? What were the processes and logistics like for making such a tome?
“We having been working on it for at least three years, with an archivist, an editorial assistant, our designers and a publishing consultant – to name but a few. Many previous anniversary publications had been mooted and then dropped, but 50 years was impossible to ignore. It is also impossible to contain, but this aims to be comprehensive – featuring every solo show and a great many of the best group shows among over 500 shows staged by the gallery. We used archival material and essays or reviews that relate to the dates of each show (featured in the top right hand corner of every spread), making the book a series of vignettes into what was being written at that moment, rather than a view backwards through time.”
The book is designed by the influential award-winning Dutch designer/bookmaker, Irma Boom. What are the origins of your relationship with her studio and how did the collaboration evolve?
“Irma has created a great many inspirational books about archives, including a recent catalogue for a show about Seth Siegelaub at the Stedelijk and her amazing SHV Thinkbook, which is a corporate history of a Dutch company that is now in the collection of MoMA. The paper she used is her own design, called IBO, and is very thin to allow us to bind over 1,100 pages, but this also allows readers to see beyond each layer to the past, present and future at the same time.”
Coinciding with your 50th celebrations is the exhibition, EVERYTHING AT ONCE at Store Studios in London. Can you explain a bit about some of the possible resonances between the curation of this, and the book itself?
“If the book is the history, then the exhibition is an expression of where the gallery is now. It was too difficult to loan back all the significant works the gallery has shown and sold to museums, so instead of the greatest hits, the works in the show are ambitious examples of what our artists are capable of, representing an ability to transcend time, space and media. In that sense, the title EVERYTHING AT ONCE relates to a 50-year-old John Cage quote that could still apply to today. Irma Boom was also involved in the design of the graphics and identity for the exhibition and the subsequent catalogue, which is forthcoming through the Vinyl Factory.”
If you could offer one piece of advice for a budding young gallerist wanting to make a book with an artist, what would it be?
“I would wait until the moment is right to make a book and listen to the artist, there is no point in making a catalogue for every show, there has to be a strong reason.”
As for the future of Lisson gallery publishing, what’s coming next? Can you tease us with any tempting clues?
“We have publications lined up for artists who we have never shown before, as well as a run of limited edition covers for ARTIST | WORK | LISSON by over 25 of our artists, many of whom have hand-drawn on the acetate wraps to create unique works or else printed digitally and signed 10 copies for sale.”
Ossian Ward is Head of Content at Lisson Gallery, former Chief Art Critic for Time Out London and author of, Ways of Looking: How to Experience Contemporary Art (Laurence King, 2014).
Image caption: ARTIST | WORK | LISSON Designed by Irma Boom. Photo by Jack Hems © Lisson Gallery