London’s Lisson Gallery sits off a shabby segment of the Edgware Road. Despite contemporary art’s supposed powers of gentrification, Bell Street has remained resolutely un-hip. Five decades after the gallery first opened, Lisson’s neighbours include a supplier of bulk nuts, a wireless repair shop and a funeral parlour. Yet every six weeks or so the pavement pulses with Comme des Garçons, red lipstick and white wine as new exhibitions are revealed in the gallery’s two buildings. Early in the morning, Nicholas Serota, the former Tate director, might be spotted, dashing along, overcoat flapping, as he heads to a private view. The fear of missing something wonderful brings them here, as it has since 1967 when hundreds queued to visit an exhibition of works by Yoko Ono.
Lisson’s director Nicholas Logsdail still lives “above the shop,” just as he did in the 1970s when Sol LeWitt or Dan Flavin would come and stay while they prepared work for a show. Back then, gallery owners were fellows in chalk-striped suits with spaces in Mayfair. Logsdail had encountered such dealers with his uncle, the author Roald Dahl, who he would accompany on gallery visits. Logsdail certainly didn’t think of himself in those terms when, at the age of 22, he opened a space to show work by his contemporaries at the Slade School of Art. “When you’re in your late teens, early 20s, you have an enormous capacity for curiosity, you want to know about how the world works,” he explains. “My generation knew nothing about marketing or anything like that.”
Money is clearly not an issue : Logsdail has stumped up six-figure sums for certain projects, among them Ai Weiwei's exhibition Disposition, shown alongside the 2013 Venice Biennale, and Anish Kapoor's Leviathan (2011) at the Grand Palais.
It was through his Uncle Roald, too, that Logsdail encountered the artist Matthew Smith, and decided already as quite a small child that art was the life for him. Smith would apparently invite the wide-eyed, eight-yearold Logsdail to come into his studio and draw. “He was incredibly accommodating to me. I was so interested in what he was doing. That smell of oil paint and turpentine – I’ll never forget it,” says Logsdail, who still has a fine landscape painting by Smith hanging in his private office. As an artist himself, Logsdail was apparently not without merit: a student work of his was selected for the 1966 New Contemporaries show at the Tate gallery. “If I wanted to be a little bit facetious, I’d say, ‘Well, having shown at the Tate before I was 21, I mean, why carry on?’” he jokes.