The idea of the Museum of Everything as an exhibition space and open forum was born in London in 2009. It encapsulates the vision of its founder — the artist, entrepreneur, and jack-of-all-trades James Brett — in two trucks filled with outsider art, which have been making their way around Russia all month.
The Museum of Everything is continuing its discovery and support of self-trained artists in Russia until September 9, offering a venue for “secret artists” who create work but have never exhibited it in a conventional art space, Brett said at a press conference in Moscow last week. As the Museum approaches its third anniversary in October, it is finishing up a five-city tour of Russia, and on its fifth and final stop its trucks have pulled into Moscow's Gorky Park.
Before arriving in the capital, the Museum traveled to Ekaterinburg, Nizhniy Novgorod, St. Petersburg, and Kazan. For the next two weeks, the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture is hosting the roving museum on its Gorky Park property, just east of “Pionerskiy Prud.” The Museum invites untrained, unknown, or never-exhibited artists to climb aboard for a chance to join the Museum's collection and exhibit internationally. Last week Brett disclosed plans to take the traveling museum to the inaugural Frieze Masters in London, and then on to Paris, New York, and Los Angeles. If an artist doesn’t make it into the Museum’s collection, at the very least he or she will be photographed and documented in the Museum's upcoming catalogue of the tour. A selection of the best works will be exhibited at the Garage Center in 2013.
The Museum of Everything provides a welcome antidote to the international stars who define Russians’ ideas about contemporary art — Koons, Hirst, and the like — and gives space to amateur artists who come bearing canvases, sculptures, and bags of curiosities.
A jury of curators vets the work submitted to the Museum. Curator Anya Shpakova, Elena Kuprina of E.K.ArtBureau, the Garage Center’s curator Yulia Aksenova, Alexander Shaburov of the Blue Noses art collective, and artist Leonid Tishkov are taking turns greeting and speaking with the artists in the two red trailer-trucks housing the Museum at Gorky Park. The venue creates an inviting atmosphere, a mix between a curiosity shop on wheels, speed dating, and show-and-tell. Each artist gets 5-10 minutes to talk to the jurors and tell his or her story. Brett does not speak Russian, but he has several interpreters, and has fluently perfected the phrase, “sleduyushiy hudozhnik!,” or “next artist!”
The conversations are “not only about art,” Anton Belov, the director of the Garage Center, told ARTINFO. “It’s the story of the art, story of the artist, and of cultural nuances.” The curators are particularly interested in creating a symphony from the voices they collect, finding trends and ideas for future exhibitions. For instance, the wives of the artists are the ones who have most often been bringing their husbands’ art to the Museum during its Russian tour, which Brett humorously dubbed the “wife preservation operation.”
However, the Museum of Everything is not strictly speaking interested in everything — especially not in academically trained or professional artists. Artists who make up their own rules fit the criteria for the collection and for admission before the panel: work must be honest and expressive of the artist’s personal life. “No style, no training,” Brett reaffirms. “I’m not sure if it’s a museum of everything or it can be a museum of nothing.” He smirks at the experimental nature of the project, conceding that even “nothing” is ostensibly something.
The Museum is a traveling cabinet of curiosities that was custom-designed for this touring project. Since the tour’s start on August 2, the jury has heard hundreds of artists of every age, each with something personal to express. In every city where the Museum has stopped, it has turned the venue into a pop-up exhibition of local art. The mobile institution accepts what it considers the best work, and doesn’t disclose artists’ developmental or other disabilities, which adds something both enlightening and empowering to its selection process. Brett seeks out innate talent, attracting participants to the project with the belief that “art begins at birth”; much of it, he feels, is waiting to be discovered within the traditionally secretive and “silent Russian majority.”
Brett has formulated a tolerant and liberal set of criteria for this experimental culture project. Speaking on the art available to contemporary collectors today, he admits he doesn’t know if “anyone likes the work” on view at galleries, art fairs, and auctions. But he hopes this project can influence and “change the policy of every museum in the world.” In a socio-politically challenged nation with one of the planet’s richest artistic and cultural histories spread across nine time zones, there is no shared set of criteria for understanding and appreciating contemporary art. The Garage and the Museum are trying to change that with this experiment by providing a place where non-professional artists can have a shot at breaking through the art world’s iron curtain.
The venue’s greatest value is its ability to provide a judgment-free platform for citizens to voice their experiences through the expression of their work. The submission process is “an open system, and it’s not about contemporary art, or modern art, or old art,” Brett said. This process allows each participating artist to “be proud of his own story, his own activities, and his art would be a part of international history,” said Belov. “This is the museum of everything, and for Garage it’s very interesting.”
To see images from the Museum of Everything's stop in Moscow's Gorky Park, click the slide show.