Top ad area, 970 x 250 (could be anything though)

Alex Logsdail: “All you need is the right outlook”

Beran Toksoz
April 15, 2024
5 min

Founded by Alex’s father, Nicholas, in 1967, the Lisson Gallery has grown into a global art player with outposts in London, New York, Shanghai and recently Los Angeles. From modest beginnings in a then anonymous corner of Marylebone, Lisson Gallery built a reputation as a rebellious, anti-establishment flag-bearer for minimalism and conceptualist art with a counter-culture tinge showing the likes of Derek Jarman and Yoko Ono. In the following decade, Lisson Gallery championed many of the New British Sculptors such as Tony Cragg and Anish Kapoor that rose to prominence in the 1980s (winning something like 14 Turner prizes, from 1984 on, along the way).

The undoubted star of the current roster is the Chinese artist and political activist Ai Weiwei, whose blogs, tweets and arrests, along with his intelligent sculptures, have made him a household name. Then there’s the force that is Marina Abramović, the doyenne of performance art; Land Art installationist, Richard Long, and Julian Opie. There’s also Lawrence Weiner the conceptual pioneer whose typographic experimentation became the foundation of word art, and the significant video artist and film-maker John Akomfrah whose work deals with issues around identity and freedom of speech.

Lawrence Weiner, This As That Be That It May, 2012, Language + the materials referred to, Dimensions variable © Lawrence Weiner. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery

With its expansion into the US and China, today, Lisson Gallery is in the multi-million pound turnover league. So how does the Alex Logsdail avoid the establishment trap and stay fresh and relevant? “All you need is the right outlook”, he insists. “The most important factor is the relationship between the gallery and the artist; being committed to the artist’s vision and the long-term outlook of their career, carefully managing their legacy and sensitively navigating market shifts.”

And it’s in this liminal place between the practical realities of the art business and the numinous realm of creativity that a good dealer has to tread. Alex and his team work hard to match curators with artists, as it’s the curator that needs to spot the opportunities and prepare the ground. They need to understand how work will be presented, which galleries have the right environment, and the heftiest contact books of collectors willing and able to sponsor the funding of novel concepts and monumental pieces, quite often taking on the financial and administrative burden too.

Laure Prouvost, The Hidden Paintings Grandma Improved - Together Ailleur, 2019, Paint on canvas (triptych), 151 x 317 x 87.5 cm © Laure Prouvost. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery

That gallery bosses like Alex truly believe and care in the artists they represent is critically important to the collectors – knowing the career of an artist is in the right hands lets collectors buy with their xin-yi, their heart-mind, without worrying unnecessarily about future value. A good gallerist works to place their artists in “the right” private collections and public institutions and that requires the breadth of knowledge and experience that the likes of Lisson bring. The right place depends on so many variables of personality, ambition and style: is this artist right for inclusion in Documenta (the five-yearly show held in Kassel) or should they focus on the likes of Art Basel or Frieze instead — every such choice feeds in to the art world’s perception of an artist. And while social media does allow artists to reach collectors directly, the work and advice that galleries put in is still vital.

“The role of the gallery is extremely important. It’s not just to sell work, it is a part of it of course, but the main job of the gallery is to contextualise the work correctly and bring it to a new audience in a way they can understand. Otherwise, it’s just a shop.”

He’s confident of the value of physical galleries too despite the hype around NFTs and the metaverse having just opened an 8,000 square foot space in Los Angeles designed by the architects Ashe Leandro in what Alex describes as an artist-led move. “Something as simple as adding an additional space is very meaningful. Artists like to have a variety of exhibition spaces to work in, so they can explore and experiment. Also there’s a huge community out there and artists want other artists to see their exhibitions, so it’s about community and dialogue.”

Dan Flavin installation at Lisson Gallery, London, 1973. Photograph © Lisson Gallery

“And it is important for the business to grow with its artists,” noting that many of his roster have not shown on the West Coast for years. Another key factor, of course, is the collector community. As Alex highlighted, “the reality is that at least 50% of the global art market is in the United States, and that is hard to ignore. We have a large collector base on the West Coast for whom this will be easier.” He’s not alone in thinking this as a number of major galleries have opened there recently, including Pace, The Hole and Danziger, while Frieze launched an LA edition in 2019.

If the West Coast has caught Logsdail’s attention, NFTs have not. Physical art already comes with supporting images, sketches and the like, while digital studio tours are just an evolution of what has always existed. As Alex points out, “during the pandemic there was an increased impetus for people to do everything online, but the idea of things being decentralized is not new. That said, we work in a physical space and nothing can adequately replace seeing a show itself. Right now all it seems to do is commodify and monetise, which doesn’t have long term art-historical importance and therefore value.”

It’s early days for NFTs so there may be a brighter future for them. After all, saw a future in artists using typography and landscape as their medium, or smashing antique pottery as a sign of political activism or even lying down in a star of burning flames until they suffocate. All difficult, radical acts of creativity that have become part of the canon, thanks in no small part to gallerists like Nicholas and Alex Logsdail.