Edgware Road, a major route out of London since Roman times, goes through many transitions, with the area around Paddington dominated by the Marylebone Flyover soaring across the road and, with its adjacent side roads, uncomfortably separating the two different entrances to the tube station underneath and creating what is probably the lowest point in the urban character of the road. To the west, is St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington Station and the redeveloping area of Paddington Basin; to the south the road improves with its proliferation of Middle Eastern food shops and restaurants towards Marble Arch and on the west you find yourself in an area of streets, schools, shops and car parks, leading to the more upmarket area of Marylebone. While much of this area has been redeveloped, there are still hints of the original 19th century houses and workshops to be seen.
Here, over 50 years ago, the Lisson Gallery was established by Nicholas Logsdail and Fiona Hildyard, growing to two locations, in addition to those elsewhere in the world, in Bell Street and Lisson Street, almost but not quite facing each other. The Bell Street building is discrete and almost anonymous on the outside apart from the courtyard wall where Laure Provost’s bold graphic hints at something to be explored. Inside, the long narrow entrance space cuts under the building above it to the tall top-lit industrial space beyond supported by cast-iron columns, generally used for exhibitions of three dimensional works, most recently by two American artists Dan Graham (born 1942), fresh from Frieze Sculpture, and Leon Polk Smith (1906 to 1996).
Graham’s curving glass wall designed as a ‘Stage Set for Music’ filled the space reflecting the gallery walls and visitors in ever-changing ways, while around the corner his reflective ‘Play Pen for Play Pais’ similarly filled the small courtyard garden (and, I’m glad to see it is still there at the moment). Also on show were models for some of his other work, reinforcing his talent in creating sculptural architectural settings.
In the current exhibition by Native-American artist Leon Polk Smith, Graham’s glass walls have been replaced with a painted folding screen, which changes as you walk around it and see how it connects with the shapes and colours in his geometric paintings from the late 1960′s and early 1970′s on the walls. Deceptive in their apparent simplicity, Smith was influenced by the likes of Piet Mondrian and was one of the leading American exponents of minimal, geometric, abstract art.
As you view this selection from the Leon Polk Foundation, established before his death in 1996, it is astonishing to think that Polk was born over 110 years ago. The work is so fresh that it could have been painted yesterday, not over 50 years ago.