Studio International

Published 10/03/2020

Ziba Ardalan – interview: ‘Parasol has been 16 years of go-go … Maybe it’s time to do something else’

Ardalan talks about her decision to close Parasol unit, and its achievements in London over the last 16 years


The first solo London presentation for Christine Rebet is the last exhibition for the Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art, the pioneering gallery set up by Ziba Ardalan in 2004. At that time, it was one of few not-for-profit contemporary art foundations in London. It has since organised 58 exhibitions, providing a platform for local and international artists at all stages of their careers.

Ardalan, who has a PhD in chemistry, switched her studies to fine art, graduating in the history of art at Columbia University, before working as guest curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art. She became the first director/curator of New York’s Swiss Institute in 1987, before moving to Zurich, and then relocating to London.


Across the spare, almost monastic concrete spaces of the Claudio Silvestrin-designed two-storey exhibition spaces (adjacent to London’s Victoria Miro), Parasol unit’s presentations for Rana Begum, Hyon Gyon, Heidi Bucher and Rayyane Tabet have undoubtedly been influential in their careers. Ardalan also showed Martin Puryear well before his selection for the US Pavilion at the 2019 Venice Biennale.


Perhaps the gallery’s most ambitious undertaking, though, was in 2019, when a group show, Nine Iranian Artists in London: The Spark is You, was held simultaneously with a show at the Conservatorio di Musica Benedetto Marcello di Venezia, as a collateral event of the Venice Biennale.

Does Ardalan have a favourite from those 16 years? “Every show had something very special. I just loved them all,” she says.

Filmed and edited by MARTIN KENNEDY