Review of Nostalgic for the Future at Lisson Gallery, London

A group show that proposes a dialogue between historical and contemporary sculpture, attempting to draw a line between a lost past, a sensuous present and an imagined future has to work hard to justify its audacious blurb. This pre-emptive strike on the legendary Lisson Gallery’s 50th birthday delivers an enchanting prophecy and a celebration in an exhibition that easily tops the list of the year’s commercial gallery group shows.

The central idea is to showcase the gallery’ artists, old and new, in order to suggest the direction in which not only contemporary sculpture, but also the Lisson, is heading. This is achieved with immaculate splendour by in many cases pairing a piece of an artist’s older work with their newer work. The show also possesses that rare ability to affect a moderate surprise in its presentation by sometimes not showing the work that one might expect. Julian Opie, for example, is not represented by those colourful portraits, but by sculptural works which waver between good-natured caprice and delicate social commentary: Incident in the Library I (1983) lends a sense of chaotic motion to painted steel, while Modern Tower 10 (2001) and Modern Tower 13 (2001) give heavily aestheticised visions of social housing.

The other refreshing thing about this exhibition is that, although billed primarily as a show of sculpture, it includes a coherent cohort of painting and other 2D works. As if to announce that the distinction between painting and sculpture is after all only an academic conceit. Indeed, although not altogether new, this insight feels intellectually progressive in an environment where art historical survey meets commercial opportunism. The suggestion seems to be that in the current climate of market buoyancy and continued popular interest in contemporary art, all artworks can be reduced to a single category of precious cultural production whose sheer unadulterated magic ensures it has no need for stuffy distinctions.

The show has a simple, yet subtle, curatorial principle, which marries basic geometry with conceptual intent. A concern for circularity in nature and the built environment draws a convincing line between Jason Martin’s Rousseau’s Wake (2013), Richard Long’s Grey Slate Spiral (1981) and Richard Wentworth’s Flight (Two Story Rorschach) (1999). Or an interest in the line between grids and mere fragments unites Tony Cragg’s Leaf (1981) and Julian Opie’s Behind every successful man is a surprised woman (1998). This, however, is prevented from being too obvious by sharp contrasts that brilliantly interrupt the flow, like Haroon Mirza’s typically destabilising Preoccupied Waveforms (2012) and Ryan Gardner’s Ftt, Ft, Ftt, Ftt, Ffttt, Ftt, or somewhere between a modern representation and of how contemporary gesture came into being (2010).

It is the pristine and intelligent curation of this show that ensures these high-minded pronouncements do not come across as over-indulgent or conceptually tenuous. There is a simmering tension between the works that never boils over, but only guides the eye effortlessly and joyously from one work to another in a wholly believable and unexpected narrative.

Daniel Barnes

Nostalgic for the Future, 15 November until 11 January, Lisson Gallery, 29 Bell Street, London, NW1 5DA.


1. Jason Martin, RousseauÔÇÖs Wake, 2013. -® the artist; Courtesy, Lisson Gallery, London
2. John Latham, Red, Green and Yellow, 1967. Courtesy John Latham Estate and Lisson Gallery
3. Tony Cragg, Minster, 1987. Courtesy, Lisson Gallery, London