The fourth incarnation of marvellous curiosity shop The Museum of Everything begins this week and it’s a humdinger of a challenge founder James Brett and his team are taking on – moving into one of London’s most famous shops. He sat down with us to outline the super-exciting new venture and lay down a gauntlet to the art establishment.
James Brett is a force of nature, a whirlwind of enthusiasm. From a small exhibition of his own weird and wonderful collectibles, The Museum of Everything has grown unbelievably rapidly – so much so that come Friday it takes over every single window in Selfridges in Oxford Street. Oh and then just a week later it opens a museum, shop and cafe there for nine whole weeks – the largest art collaboration the department store has ever done.
“We do feel the pressure,” he grins, “but there’s no time to think about that because the project is so big. It is so easy to say yes and so difficult to do yes. Any nervousness went long ago because of the facts of doing it, of getting it ready. It is high risk to take something quite complicated and try to make it simple.”
The concept behind The Museum of Everything’s Exhibition #4 is to showcase the works of art made at studio-workshops for people with a range of learning difficulties,
“This stuff is art but it’s often not called art. We had some examples in the first show and I thought it was fascinating, so we decided to look at it in detail and visit some of these places. There’s Creative Growth in California which has some superstar patrons, but in many other countries these places are simply invisible.
“There was one in Japan that was just one room run by a woman whose son has Down’ Syndrome. He was very creative and one day one of his mates came round to draw and paint. Then a few more came and now there’s a whole studio. “It’s art, not therapy, even if it’s also therapeutic.”
He talks about the production designer Christiane Cuticchio who founded the progressive studio Atelier Goldstein in Frankfurt. Hans Jorg Georgi, one of the artists that attends Goldstein was institutionalised and making huge cardboard planes, which would accumulate for a few weeks and then be thrown out by the cleaner.
“She walked in and said: ‘Oh my God, these are essential contemporary art works.’ ” Cuticchio rescued him and gave him a place in the studio.
Yet winning over the art establishment can prove frustrating. “I would not say they are bigoted, but they do reflect the segregation in society. I want this show to challenge the larger art institutions, not in an aggressive way, but ask them as the arbiters of taste, why they won’t show these works which really reflect why anyone does anything creative.”
James is eloquent and passionate but is not an activist. “We are just putting on a show, but there are all sorts of interesting and complicated ideas bubbling under the surface.”
He does feel though that these types of art studios seem to be more prevalent in the USA, Japan, and parts of Europe. “It’s a question why these places exist in many parts of the world but not predominantly really in a country as progressive as the UK? As a collector, I am certainly not seeing them.”
See part two of our interview here.