In the second part of our interview with inspirational Museum of Everything founder James Brett, he tells us about the careful balancing act involved in showing artists with a range of learning difficulties, and why heading to the West End does not mean selling out.
Every decision about whether to feature an artist in the Selfridges show has been carefully considered, and James insists the interests of the artist always come before the interests of the show.“If something should remain private, then we will not exhibit it," he says. "There is a clear dividing line between what is correct and what is not.”
He references an Art Brut show in Paris which featured astonishing paintings by an autistic teenager using his clothes, pyjamas and underwear – but at the preview the artist could be seen desperately trying to get his clothes off the wall. “This is completely unacceptable as far as I’m concerned. We make sure the artists and those who represent them are comfortable with being featured. It has to be done with integrity and honesty."
But it’s the fact these artists may not think of themselves as such which he is drawn to. “These days so much is about market and career. What these artists do often reflects a much purer creative gesture.”
The new show features the work of William Scott a young African American artist who makes fantastical architectural drawings of a dream city; a re-imagining of his own childhood neighbourhood that inevitably touch on race, class and aspiration. “But William has not been to art school, nor has he been taught about identity and self."
So, does James have any concerns about moving to the commercial free-for-all of Oxford Street?
“I am aware that certain people will think going to Selfridges is selling out, but that is absolutely incorrect. They are a fantastic landscape, they love what we do and they want to support it. Where else could we get a space like this? I don’t see any other space offering themselves up like this, whether it be a department store or the Tate Modern.
“I also believe it’s wrong for institutions to position themselves as non-commercial when that’s exactly what they are. Certain museums present themselves as above money – but we all need money.”
There are future plans, ranging from a small show in a Hackney Road basement to a tour across the whole of Russia and the Middle East “once things calm down there.” But for now his energies are focussed on bringing The Museum of Everything to life in Selfridges.
He casts an approving eye on his small staff working away in the office. “Democracy works really well in art but not art management. I run the museum a bit like Cuba.”
Does that make him Castro?
“Well I do have a beard…”
Read part one of the interview here.
About the Author
Rob joined It’s Nice That as Online Editor in July 2011 before becoming Editor-in-Chief and working across all editorial projects including itsnicethat.com, Printed Pages, Here and Nicer Tuesdays. Rob left It’s Nice That in June 2015.