Liverpool Biennial Lands at Lewis's

Posted on 25 November 2020 by Liverpool Biennial

The Lewis’s Building exterior. Creator: Daniel Hopkinson / Aedas. Copyright: © Daniel Hopkinson / Aedas 2013. Moral Rights Asserted.

The Lewis’s Building exterior. Creator: Daniel Hopkinson / Aedas. Copyright: © Daniel Hopkinson / Aedas 2013. Moral Rights Asserted.

New for 2021, Liverpool Biennial is excited to announce an additional venue partnership with the historic Lewis’s Building. Spanning over three floors, the space will be filled with works from 13 of our 11th Edition artists, making it a focal and dynamic hub in the upcoming programme.

Located in the heart of the city, the Lewis’s Building is an iconic feature of Liverpool’s distinctive architectural landscape. The Grade II listed site was purpose-built by David Lewis in the mid-1800s as the flagship store for his now discontinued department store chain. The store began trading men’s and boy’s fashion in 1856, expanding its range and continuing to operate until it’s closure in 2010. Since then, excluding office spaces and a temporary gym and postal service, the building has remained otherwise vacant – until now.

To celebrate the latest 2021 venue addition, we took some time to dig into the history of the former department store. Read on to learn more about this building’s trailblazing past and why it is so well-loved by Liverpool’s residents and visitors alike.

Restoration

Originally occupying the site from the 1850s, the building we see today is the fourth building carrying the Lewis’ name and designed by architect Gerald de Courcy Fraser in the early part of the 20th century. Having been partly destroyed during the Liverpool Blitz it was again refurbished in 1957.

The main entrance, found on Ranelagh Place, is situated amongst tall Egyptian-style columns with the façade displaying relief panels designed by Sir Jacob Epstein. The reliefs were modelled on Epstein’s offspring and depict playful scenes of childhood. The imagery includes young boys fighting, children playing games and a baby sat in her pram accompanied by a pet dog. The works are said to represent the younger generation that Liverpool was being rebuilt for.

The building’s architectural features characterise its undeniable grandeur. However, its definitive feature is undoubtedly one of the city’s most locally recognisable icons: Liverpool Resurgent.

Liverpool Resurgent 

Standing elevated over the building’s entrance, the infamous bronze statue is another work by Sir Jacob Epstein symbolising Liverpool’s renewed vigour following the horrors of WWII.

The sculpture’s official title is Liverpool Resurgent but it is better recognised by the common nicknames of either “Nobby” or “Dickie Lewis’s”. It was a well-known meeting place for locals for many decades, the custom having been for Liverpudlians to agree to “meet under the man”.

Furthermore, the work has been immortalised in Liverpool folklore as it is referred to in the 1962 anthemic song In My Liverpool Home by Peter McGovern:

"We speak with an accent exceedingly rare, meet under a statue exceedingly bare"

The Heydays

In it’s heyday, the Lewis’s Building was host to much more than just a retail experience. Customers in the 1950s could dine at either the self-service café or Red Rose restaurant, lifts were operated by a member of staff and the store even contained a salon.

However, nothing was more pioneering than Christmas at Lewis’s when the world’s first Christmas grotto, titled "Christmas Fairyland", opened at the store in 1879. Over 140 years later, despite having moved to a new location after the building’s closure, the festivity remains the Guinness World Record title holder of the oldest Santa's grotto in operation.

Father Christmas accompanied by pantomime characters, seen here ready to leave the Albert Dock on November 9, 1991. Santa made his way through the city to take up residence in his grotto at Lewis's Department Store. Copyright: Mirrorpix

An exciting customer experience was paramount at Lewis’s but the staff were certainly not forgotten. Parties were held on the top floor and often included live music. Rebranding the 6th floor as Lewis’s ‘527’ Club for an exclusive event in 1962, Liverpool legends The Beatles footed the bill under headliners the Dee Valley Jazz Band and Pam.


The Liverpool Biennial is undeniably thrilled to become part of the history of this iconic Liverpool landmark and are pleased to be supported by the Augur Group Ltd in making this possible.

We are now proud to reveal the list of artists whose works will be featured at the venue:

Diego Bianchi, Alice Channer, Jes Fan, Lamin Fofana, Ane Graff, Camille Henrot, Sohrab Hura, Luo Jr - shin, Haroon Mirza, Pedro Neves Marques, Reto Pulfer, Kathleen Ryan and Jenna Sutela

Read project descriptions and the full artist list here

The full 11th Edition of Liverpool Biennial: The Stomach and the Port, will run from 20 March – 27 June 2021.