In 2021, Danny Lamb opened ADZ Gallery in Lisbon. Formally trained as a painter before relocating to London to work for Rod Barton gallery, Lamb has a unique approach to gallery ownership that adopts the slowness of painting as its ethos.
This has allowed him to establish a tight-knit community of artists and collectors, providing a more intimate and much-needed antidote to the mega-gallery structure. In this interview, Lamb shares why he looked outside the traditional art market centres to open his gallery in Lisbon.
What led you to the art world?
I was trained as a painter before moving down to London to work at Rod Barton. I didn't know anyone at the time, but Rod was very kind and took me under his wing and I quickly became integrated in the scene there. I started to become more interested in what everyone else was making, rather than my own practice.
How do you feel your background as an artist influences your work as a gallerist?
There's a definite understanding of the pain and process of the craft. I also try to adhere to the slowness of making and viewing art and I try to follow this through into the way that I curate exhibitions and programming.
I often take into account traditional, grassroots dealerships in first-floor places and how they have historically operated. Lisbon is incredibly fertile ground with much to offer. Despite being quite a touristic city, many artists and collectors have started to take root recently.
Not only is Lisbon a much more economically sustainable place to set up a gallery, it's a localised scene and if you're doing something new, word travels fast. The gallery's only done about seven shows so far, but people have flocked through the doors.
I came across your gallery vicariously through a few friends, and it's been great to observe it grow over the last year.
People have organically found it and have made the pilgrimage, climbing the staircase and going through the 17th-century doors and into the heart of the gallery space. I always enjoy seeing the look of surprise on their faces as they come in.
I don't really advertise and there's no sign outside—it's a hidden space. There's a real draw to smaller or unique spaces nowadays, as people seem to be becoming a bit bored of mega-galleries. But it's hard to achieve this in London because it's so unaffordable.
There are also too many pain points trying to get to these places. Even though I lived in London, it was too easy to guiltily fall into the trap of looking at the shows online because travelling to central was such a pain.
What made you want to set up a gallery?
I think when you finally discover what you're made to do, there's no going back. It was just a natural transition. I never wanted my own gallery space, but it just happened. I also gained lots of friends who were artists and had moved on to bigger representation, but I was able to work with them again.
In Lisbon, you can do small, intimate shows very easily. A key pull to the city is that it also allows me to work with friends again. If I were to open a space in London, it would be much more complicated due to regional representation.
At the beginning I was quite worried, because I didn't think Lisbon had the caché it was known for, but it definitely does, and I think that was just the nervousness of opening my own space.
Your programme is quite geared to painting. Is there something that you look for or that excites you when you come across a new artist's work?
For years I've been voraciously consuming paintings and it's the medium I come to the most. And even when I'm looking at photography, I'm looking at it in the same way I would look at a painting.
You already have quite a loyal group of collectors and artists who support you. Do you try to keep that quite tight while you are in the early stage of opening the gallery?
With the artists, we have a strong understanding of each other and also of the limitations of the gallery. Obviously, it is a stepping stone for some of the artists I'm showing at the moment—they're destined for big things, and we have that understanding between us.
I do have a close-knit client base, and now that I'm here, I just generally have more time so I have more to give in this area. So even though they're technically clients, I would also call them friends, because I make time to speak with them and talk to them every day on the phone, whereas in London most of that is reduced to e-mail.
I suppose that's going against the grain of how the art world is at the moment, too—everything is international and sold over Instagram or WhatsApp, and it must be quite gratifying to work within a local scene and have that kind of relationship with people.
Definitely. It just feels real again.
Where do you see Lisbon shifting in years to come?
Lots of artists have started moving here, and even when I moved here, I thought perhaps we were at the tail-end of the movement. But after a couple of shows, I started to realise I was quite early, actually.
I'm incredibly excited about where things are going. A couple friends of mine just opened two incredible new gallery spaces, apparently Ai Weiwei just moved here, C L E A R I N G just opened a collaborative exhibition with Fortes D'Aloia & Gabriel and Madragoa, and Dozie Kanu, a phenomenal sculptor whose work I will be showing soon, has already been living here for the last few years.
There's an artist visa, so they definitely cater to the scene, but I think they just need more publicity so that people are aware that they can live by the sea and all of this is available to them.
What have you got coming up at the gallery?
This week we are opening a group exhibition curated by Ted Targett, a young curator with an impeccable eye, with artists such as Adam Alessi, Nils Alix-Tabeling, Dozie Kanu, Sara Knowland, Jennifer J. Lee, Evangeline Ling, Calvin Marcus, Soshiro Matsubara, Jacopo Pagin, and Oda Iselin Sønderland. Just after that, we will be splitting my space to host two simultaneous solo shows with Brett Goodroad, and a sculptor called David Fesl. —[O]
Main image: Christian Quin Newell, Memory palace (2021). Oil and acrylic on canvas. 170 x 200 cm. Exhibition view: Group Exhibition, Fragments, ADZ Gallery, Lisbon (28 October–27 November 2021). Courtesy ADZ Gallery.