The Museum of Everything’s artists and why Russia is relevant…
More about the Museum of Everything’s artists and why Russia is relevant…
The Museum of Everything’s choice of ‘artists’ challenges the very definition of the word itself. For can ‘Art’ be created by people who don’t call themselves artists - people creating without the need for public recognition or an awareness of any imminent critique on their work? Instead these newly championed artists are using perhaps a more pure personal expression, in some cases these creations are their only means of expression. This un-self-conscious art could perhapsrepresent an even truer sense of Art, one that goes back to our most primal instincts to create with our hands.
Left: works by Judith Scott
The Museum of Everything also supports places such as ‘Creative Growth’ a visionary art centre in California, which encourages exactly this sort of free creation, casting no limitations on the people with mental or psychological disorders that they encourage towork there. Judith Scott was one of the subjects of The Museum’s ‘Exhibition no. 4’ at the hugely accessible public space of Selfridges. Scott was a deaf lady with Down’s syndrome who was resigned to an institution until her twin sister managed to release her aged 43 and put her into the ‘Creative Growth’ Program. Here, after two years of making no work, and having never had a real voice in her life, she finally found her metaphorical, physical voice and started obsessively creating monumental large cocoon-like sculptures wrappingup found objects in wool and yarn with varied degrees of tension, her works stuffed full of hidden treasures which she appropriated from around her. Now her works are widely revered and collected internationally.
The difference between more mainstream art and the works displayed by the Museum of Everything is that the latter’s works do not necessitate knowledge of the art historical context that most galleries use to validate and make sense of the art they show. For as James Brett (the museum’s director) notes it is this high value that these institutions allocate to the word that is the problem - ‘the word excludes those that maybe don’t intend their art.’ Instead the Museum of Everything’s artists are judged less within a lineardevelopment framework of other artists but they are valued aesthetically – together with the gentle unravelling of their own stories. The viewer can come to the works liberated from the burden of art history and the desire to search for a suitable place for these artists amongst others who they may not necessarily fit with. These artists’ works warrant a different sort of looking experience. As the critic Tom Lubbock notes when looking at an artist in the show Heinrich Reisenbauer’s work (an artist from the Psychiatric Hospital at Gugging outside Vienna). His small outline drawings of cups and saucers, bare trees, umbrellas can be looked at in two ways:
‘[On one hand] you're enjoying somebody's madness or eccentricity, a spectator to their private and involuntary activity. The other, you're enjoying the playfulness of a self-conscious artist, something you can take part in. But you're looking at exactly the same picture. It works perfectly with both responses.’
Above: works by Henrich Reisenbauer and the artist himself
Interestingly Russian art history has a long tradition of inspiration from self-taught, folk and naïve art, a point that has inspired the Museum’s quest here. In particular the Russian Avant-Guardists Wassily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, Mikhail Larionov and Natalia Goncharova were all strongly influenced by self-taught art. Kandinsky, during his ethnographic expedition to the hinterland, was overcome by the overall bold and multi-coloured decoration of the peasant’s huts, claiming that it was from them that he ‘learnt not to look at the picture from the side but to revolve in the picture myself [and] live in it.’ Theaesthetic that this experience inspired in him arguably signalling the start of abstraction inmodern art. Goncharova and Larionov’s aesthetic of Neo-Primitivism came in direct response to the large peasant population in Russia, the Russian folk art of their ancestors, wherein these artists found ‘the most acute, most direct perception of life’ referring specifically to the lubok and the icon as their ‘password, [their] slogan.’ By employing a primitive folk aesthetic, one of the people whose very condition they sought to highlight, they would be able to transfigure the social content and offend the polite tastes and cultural standards of the bourgeoisie at the same time. This appropriation of a folk, non-intentional aesthetic to make a political point seems pertinent to Brett’s mission in highlighting non-professional artist’s creativity where traditional institutions and cultural standards fails to.
Today, many of Russia’s contemporary artists such as Leonid Tishkov, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov continue to be inspired by this aesthetic. The Museum ofEverything will also showcase the non-professional Russian art of Alexander Lobanov and Pavel Leonov in their planned final exhibition in Moscow’s Garage along with the works that they collect throughout Russia on their journey.