The world’s most eccentric travelling exhibition is returning to London to showcase The Museum of Everything Exhibition #4, an installation of over 200 pieces of outsider and progressive art. From oven baked cameras to vast flying cities, the exhibition takes work from the fringes in whatever form the curators find it in and brings it all together in a treasure trove of curiosities. This year’s exhibition explores the work of artists with developmental disabilities, setting out to challenge not only our traditional notions of the artist but our expectations of the art itself. For these undiscovered artists, their creativity represents more than just a body of work, it is a new form of language.
Having moved from its beloved Primrose Hill home to take over Selfridges Exhibition Hall and Oxford Street windows, this exhibition is set to be the biggest yet and will also be available in a digital format. OhDearism caught up with Museum of Everything founder James Brett to find out more.
OhDearism: How does this exhibition differ from the ones before?
James Brett: The Museum of Everything is Britain’s only – and somewhat transient – space for all forms of non-traditional art. We show folkloric art, self-taught art, any form of unschooled practice and anything which somehow seems to connect with us. What links it all together is that these artists tend not to make things with a destination in mind, meaning more often than not the art market. If they do, then they only do so softly or perhaps have learnt to do so. It is rarely where they start from.
Our first show was a wide-ranging group show of artists from the 19th, 20th and 21st Centuries. Their work was supplemented with essays by some well-known curators and artists, people like Ed Ruscha and Maurizio Cattelan, as well as fans like Jarvis Cocker. Our second show was an open call to artists across Britain to show their work in Tate Modern. Our third, a collection of self-taught, circus and found art, inspired by and curated with one of our main supporters and flag-wavers, Sir Peter Blake.
For this new show we wanted to look at something very specific and rare: progressive studios run by artists which help other artists make art. The artists they are helping often have something going on – maybe a learning issue or an –ism of some kind – which means they need a bit of help to make their art. What is important to understand is that these studios are not generally educational or institutional. They are not even places for therapy. They are art studios.
OhDearism: What type of art can we expect from the exhibition? Does it challenge our preconceived notions of what art is?
James Brett: I would argue that the works in Exhibition #4 are fundamentally different to any other artwork or art exhibition in Britain. It is one of the most important shows in the country, because it challenges what we know and currently understand to be art.These artists rarely have a sense of an outside art society. They’re not making these things to sell, to receive praise or for you to look at. They are making it to express themselves and to give voice to some very deeply-felt creative urges. You then have to realise that many of these artists do not express themselves well in any other way. Were you to engage in a conversation, it could be slow and faltering. Verbal language doesn’t come easily to many of them. What does come easily is visual language.
Each artist in the show comes with his or her own personal vernacular, ideas and phrases which have been brewing inside all their lives. They cannot easily be translated or understood with reference to art history or contemporary art. This is a challenge to the art world and to the more literal minded critics and curators. They require the context to be clear, the metaphor to be spelled out, they want to know what it means. Without it, the work seems to lose its resonance for them.
For me and for many others, this work reveals one innate human truth: we were created, we must create. That is perhaps why some of the most important artists in the world – like Cindy Sherman, who contributed to our show – are fans of artists like the ones at HPCA. They reveal to her and to all of us the fundamental creative nature of us all.
OhDearism: Why do you think this type of art has been typically left out of mainstream galleries?
James Brett: It was Duchamp’s fault! Without words, post- rationalisations, contexts and correlations, art becomes simply image or object. The work of someone for whom linguistic ideas are difficult to communicate is themselves difficult to communicate. They do not sit comfortably in mainstream galleries because they do not sit comfortably in the mainstream. Much easier to sell something much easier.
The issue is that the art world is part of society and it mirrors society. Society doesn’t privilege the kind of people who are the artists of Exhibition #4, so neither does art. We don‘t give them art studios, we never show their work, we certainly never buy their work and it only appears in mainstream museums if there is an outsider show on!
It is, quite simply, about segregation.
OhDearism: The Museum of Everything has always felt like a small hidden treasure-trove of curiosities. Do you think this will change by being in Selfridges or is the location irrelevant as it has always been a travelling exhibition anyway?
James Brett: We like small, we like large, we of course loved Primrose Hill. But this show was so interesting, so complicated, so alive and pregnant with depth and meaning, it seemed wrong to keep it hidden away in a hidey-hole. Maybe next time we’ll go back into the darker tunnels of the capital …