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James Brett on Artists Outside the Cultural Mainstream

I look forward to a future where every state and national museum includes astonishing material by unusual people, independent of physicality, neurology, colour or class.

James Brett, founder of the Gallery of Everything

As Melbourne patiently wades through months of closures and pauses, there is a reprieve in thinking of two Arts Project Australia artists being viewed and relished faraway in London. 

At the Gallery of Everything, APA’s Julian Martin and Terry Williams are exhibiting side-by-side in The Deep. The Gallery of Everything is London’s first and only commercial space dedicated to non-academic and private art-making, ancillary to the Museum of Everything, a non-profit which has been advocating for artists beyond the cultural mainstream since 2009. The exhibition – dates recently extended until October 1 – explores the vocabulary of the two non-verbal artists working within the contemporary art world and their total embrace of the self as they, as atypical art-makers, mesh into the widest cultural circles.

James Brett, the founder of the Museum of Everything and the Gallery of Everything and curator of The Deep, recently took time to talk with Arts Project Australia about the ideological overlap between the two arts organisations and his aspirations for platforming the voices of artists outside the mainstream. 

You can take a virtual tour of The Deep here.

The Deep James Brett

Terry Williams and Julian Martin in The Deep at the Gallery of Everything until 1 October

 

The Museum of Everything, and now The Gallery of Everything, have always been dedicated to non-academic and private art-making. Why is it important to provide space for this type of art?

We started the museum just over ten years ago for one reason: there was no real space in the UK dedicated to alternative artmakers working outside the cultural mainstream. The Museum of Everything was an experiment. We curated over 500 works in a found space in the middle of London and invited the art world to take a look. The response was incredible, and it really helped put the artists – and the genre – on the map. 

Ever since, our projects – small and large – have aimed to give the artists and artworks we love a voice and a platform. That’s also why we travel to places and countries with less knowledge of this unusual material. Mainstream galleries and museums are finally starting to wake up to this stuff. We hope this is in some small part due to our curated installations in the UK and beyond. 

James Brett

James Brett at MONA’s Museum of Everything which included APA artists Julian Martin, Alan Constable and Terry Williams

 

When did your relationship with APA begin and what have been some of the critical collaborations along the way? 

We discovered APA when researching our fourth museum exhibition at Selfridges in London. In this massive undertaking, we presented artwork across the store, its windows, its exhibition space and its hotel. 

The show, comprising hundreds of artworks, was dedicated to studios for artists with communication issues and disabilities. I should point out that “disability” is a word which we would have loved not to use because we didn’t think it was appropriate or even accurate – but we wanted to celebrate the studios, and we had to communicate.

The exhibition presented artists and organisations from around the world; it turned out that APA had some of our favourite artists in the entire show. We fell in love with the work and the ethos: and we featured several artists including Julian Martin, Alan Constable and Leo Cussen. From then on, APA artists featured in all our museum shows; and when we opened our gallery, Alan Constable was someone we immediately wanted to represent. The current exhibition is another terrific step forward. 

Julian Martin, untitled, 2018, pastel on paper, 38 x 28.5 cm. Represented by Fleisher/Ollman, Philadelphia and Arts Project Australia, Melbourne.

 

Tell me about the inspiration behind your current exhibition, The Deep– why did you decide to feature APA’s Julian Martin and Terry Williams? 

In some ways, The Deep is connected to and inspired by the museum exhibition of 2010. Terry Williams and Julian Martin are dynamic contemporary artists. That we decided to exhibit them together – a decision we made despite, and not because of, the APA connection – was entirely to do with how they visually describe the outside world. 

There is a curious, ill-defined line between interpretation and abstraction. For us, both Terry and Julian exemplify this ambiguity. 

Most of all, we thought they would look great curated together!

Terry Williams James Brett

Terry Williams, Untitled, 2016, assorted material and stuffing, 47 x 51 x 56 cm

 

The Museum of Everything has been around for a decade, what developments – whether that be exhibitions or general discourse or changes in art world values- would you like to see for artists and art ‘outside the cultural mainstream’ over the next few years?  

A lot seems to have changed since we first started. Mainstream galleries and museums increasingly curate artists outside the dominant cultural map. Yet there is still the feeling of them as something of a curiosity. The new focus of the art world is “diversity,” which is a word which does not really help the field. 

While it is true that so-called outsiderism has always been fundamentally diverse, it is relevant to point out that human life is by its nature diverse!

That the art world – like every other part of society – tends to exclude the many and not the few, is simply a byproduct of a narrow gaze by historic gate-keepers. 

Similarly, the term “neuro-diverse” may be a step forward from many of the other terms, yet it still functions as a metaphor for an apparent “otherness” – and what we really would like to see is a move away from this. 

Some museums are doing a great job of just incorporating, like the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which is now curating artists from studios around the world as part of the new gallery hang. Artists are placed alongside their brethren of past and present; for me, this is evidence of real change. 

I look forward to a future where every state and national museum includes astonishing material by unusual people, independent of physicality, neurology, colour or class. I hope that’s not too much to ask!

⁣⁣⁣Love from the Studio is a series of interviews and articles bringing you behind the scenes of Arts Project Australia. 

James Brett was interviewed by Tahney Fosdike, Marketing & Communications Coordinator at Arts Project Australia.

COVID-19 UPDATE: ARTS PROJECT IS CURRENTLY CLOSED. WE CONTINUE TO OPERATE ONLINE AND SALES WILL BE PROCESSED ONCE A WEEK.