This article discusses the way in which a group of young sculptors, all of whom were represented by the Lisson Gallery in London, came to establish their reputations during the late 1970s and 1980s. Analysis of acquisitions by the three main national collections in Britain and of press coverage in art journals indicates the reputational success achieved by Edward Allington, Tony Cragg, Richard Deacon, Anish Kapoor, Julian Opie and Bill Woodrow. It is argued that such success can be understood by applying some of the concepts used in marketing to an account of artists’ careers. In the case of the New British Sculptors of the 1980s, three themes in particular are relevant.
The first of these is the construction of a brand identity to link together a number of individuals who in some cases had never met and were unaware of each other's work until they found themselves included in the same group exhibition. It is suggested that the differences between their approaches and the appearance of the work itself, which from the viewpoint of art theory would weaken or invalidate the grouping altogether, can be seen from the perspective of marketing to have been helpful in generating additional comment and attention about the individual artists involved.
The second theme in the marketing of this art brand concerns the importance of ‘British-ness’ as a form of identity that had particular resonance at the time in positioning these artists and their work. This was based on the perception that within the field of late twentieth-century sculpture, British artists of earlier generations had established a tradition and achieved a level of reputational success internationally. This in turn meant that the New British Sculptors of the 1980s could be differentiated from other artistic groups and movements, at a time when these were often identified in relation to nationality.
Third, the article considers the importance of the way in which the ‘New British Sculpture’ brand was positioned in relation to Conceptual Art. This relationship was a complex and ambiguous one, even in the case of Tony Cragg who was the first of these artists to build a reputation and who had close links with established conceptual artists and dealers. However it is argued that from a marketing viewpoint the connection was easier to establish because of the previous involvement of the Lisson Gallery itself with figures such as Sol LeWitt, Dan Graham and Lawrence Weiner. Within this context, arguments about whether and how the ‘New British Sculptors’ were developing the concerns of Conceptual Art served as a way of generating attention and debate, and of reinforcing the association between the two. This in turn helped to position these artists in a favourable light in relation to the ‘New Image’ painters who were attracting great critical and commercial support at this time.