A streak of rebellion has been weaved into the fabric of Lisson Gallery since it opened in 1967. Founded by Slade School of Art dropout Nicholas Logsdail, Lisson staked its claim on the cutting edge of contemporary art thanks to money Logsdail received in a payout from a motorbike accident. It should come as no surprise, then, that when it came to creating their 50th anniversary show, “EVERYTHING AT ONCE”, they opted to take an unconventional route.
Eschewing a more traditional, retrospective route for such a significant anniversary, Lisson continues to be focused on the new. The show features brand-new pieces and decades-old work alike, united by a feeling of freshness and immediacy. Certain aspects of the curation take on an eerie, clairvoyant quality in the present moment. The decision to focus on forward-facing works rather than past flies in the face of a lot of what we saw at London Fashion Week, which was particularly nostalgic about the sixties and seventies (notably the time of the gallery’s conception). The show also includes work from Allora & Calzadilla (who are also currently showing at Lisson’s flagship location). These pair are at the forefront of the Puerto Rican art, at a time when Puerto Rico is at the forefront of global conversations.
It’s hard to discuss “EVERYTHING AT ONCE” without also mentioning the rockstar line-up of crowd-pleasing names from the art world. If you ever wanted to see Anish Kapoor’s giant bell in the same show as a rarely-shown piece from Marina Abramovic, “EVERYTHING AT ONCE” is sure to delight.
Ahead of the opening at The Vinyl Factory on the 5th October, we sat down with Lisson’s Curatorial Director Greg Hilty to discuss the sheer scale and drama of the show, the curation process, and what visitors can expect.
“EVERYTHING AT ONCE” is probably the largest show Lisson Gallery has ever attempted; what unique challenges did putting this show together pose?
“EVERYTHING AT ONCE” hasn’t just tested us in terms of the scale, but also in terms of our way of working. Usually we focus all of our energy on one artist, so a collective show like this was a challenge. We tried to present breathtaking works by each of the artists. Each work needed to be a strong statement, and since we only have one or two works by each artist, it needed to be a focused statement.
It’s hard to describe, but there’s definitely a pace to the show. The opening rooms are filled with very strong, immersive statements: Anish Kapoor, Ai Weiwei, Dan Graham, Rodney Graham. You go upstairs and it gets more into imagery and iconography. Cory Arcangel is showing. There’s also Laure Provost, who we just started working with, and Nathalie Djurberg. They form a sort of media section, which isn’t just about the medium itself, but also the kind of imagery that a given medium can generate. Then you move into a section where we’re showing Art and Language. There’s also work from Richard Long, who’s from a certain generation, and then you’ve also got Stanley Whitney, who is also essentially the same age but is newer to the gallery. He’s doing a very different kind of work, but the two are compatible. So each of the three floors has a very different character. We were always looking for that kind of variety to keep people interested.
Although it’s an anniversary show, “EVERYTHING AT ONCE” feels more like a capsule of the present than a distillation of the gallery’s past. How, and why, did you decide to pursue this approach?
We did originally think of a kind of historical show in a different venue. But ultimately, we said: we’re not a museum. We’re a living gallery. It’s conceivable that a museum could mount a Lisson Gallery Retrospective. But to me, the Lisson itself feels as dynamic and as forward-looking as it ever was. So we wanted it to be fresh, but then we didn’t just want to show new works.
With the older works, we were definitely looking for pieces that were historical, but still felt current. Richard Long is showing a work that’s not unlike work he’s made all his career. But it feels completely fresh, and completely of the moment. Tony Cragg is showing very old work that he showed at the Hayward Gallery quite early in his career, maybe 35 years ago. But where it’s been placed — looking at across the expansive London landscape — it feels like it could have been made yesterday. So essentially, all of the content, the ideas, the concepts, the styles — none of it feels dated.
It seems that culture, on a wider scale, is quite preoccupied with looking backwards at the moment. During the Fashion Weeks, for instance, we saw a lot of nostalgia for the 60s and 70s in particular. Was it a conscious decision to go against the cultural current? Was the creation of show informed by wider cultural or political contexts at all?
The main concern for us was including work in the show that felt both of its time and of our time. But the Lisson certainly has a history of political shows. Particularly in the 60s, the shows were often directly political, and featured works that acted as a kind of “agitation protest”. Pretty much every artist we’ve worked with is trying to understand the world and trying to represent it in a new way. They want to make us look at the world with new eyes. So that’s political in and of itself, and some of the works are more pointedly political than others. We weren’t trying to make a political show, but I think we were trying to make an exhibition that had a sense of urgency and a sense of engagement with issues facing us today.
What were you bearing in mind whilst putting on the show? Were there any thematic ideas you were particularly conscious of?
I think the main ideas we were thinking about are there in the title. “EVERYTHING AT ONCE” is a good way to frame the exhibition. It’s going to look great on a tote bag! More than that though, I see the title as having two meanings. One looks back to the 60’s, and looking back at the gallery’s history. But also there’s this idea that you can compress the world into an artwork. Regardless of the medium or whether or not it’s directly representational, so many ideas and experiences can be compacted into a single work of art — everything at once.
We were also interested in having a good geographical spread in the show. The Lisson Gallery and many of the early conceptual art galleries were international from the beginning, but quite quickly they too became dominated by more American and European artists. But the world has moved on again since then. Given the momentous cultural and economic shifts, you can only look at the world globally. For as long as I’ve been with the Lisson, we’ve very conscious of trying to avoid colonising other cultures and art scenes. Instead, we try to look at places and look at artists who tie in with the gallery’s ethos, but expand it, or bring a different perspective to it. Ai Weiwei is an obvious case in point.
Definitely — and that also ties in with the show being very much a product of the present moment. On a more granular level, which individual works are you most excited to have included in the show?
We were just looking at laying out certain works by Julian Opie and Tony Cragg, who are from that sort of “second generation” of gallery artists. Julian’s work still feels very current; we’re showing his race track made of concrete, which he previously showed at the Hayward. We’re also showing a new work — an animation of a car driving through the night, which is very mesmerizing. His work is very well-known, and very well-liked, but I think some people forget these different strands. He’s very well known for his figure work and his portraits, but these other strands help to explain who he is now, and put it into context.
I’m also glad that we’re showing the latest in a trilogy of works by Wael Shawky, it’s a piece called “Al Araba al Madfuna III”, which is the name of a village where he made these works. It’s just a stunning and surprising work that I think will really knock people out.
By contrast we’re showing a trio of Marina Abramovic’s films: “Freeing the Mind”, “Freeing the Body”, and “Freeing the Voice”. They are extremely simple, and very iconic. They’re known but they’re not often shown. I think they’ll have a real power as well. So I’m excited about much of the work for different reasons.
What is the overall impression that you want “EVERYTHING AT ONCE” to leave on the audience? What impact are you hoping to have?
I haven’t really articulated this yet, but I want it to give the sensation of locked windows being opened. Each piece puts you into another frame of mind, and engages you in a different way. I don’t think there’s any kind of meretricious or sort of bombastic work, it’s all strong work that is has kind of staked its claim. There’s 25 artists with 25 strong representations that are extremely varied and extremely powerful. So I hope people will come away with a sense of having been away on a remarkable journey through the world.
For more information on the exhibition, please visit www.everythingatonce.com.