the museum of everything

The Museum of Everything: Art Comments

Take just a few steps away from the chi-chi cafes and boutiques of Primrose Hill; follow the hand-lettered red signs tied to the trees; turn left by Chalk Farm Library and you find yourself standing before a crooked doorway fit for a fairy-tale or funfair. The sign above the door, reads simply, in mismatched letters: EVERYTHING.

This is The Museum of Everything – a boldly-titled pop up gallery housed in a former dairy and recording studio, bringing together works by 90 artists from Europe, America and Asia. Yet what separates The Museum of Everything from London’s wealth of temporary art spaces and pop-up exhibitions is its subject matter: this gallery is devoted entirely to showcasing the very best in outsider art. The works on display here are created outside the mainstream art world, with its markets and its institutions: here, self-taught artists and makers represent a variety of extreme mental states, presenting a wealth of unique fantasy worlds and unconventional perspectives. As The Museum of Everything puts it: “For these artists there are no studies, no press junkets, no art fairs, no magazine spreads. Instead there are treasure troves of untrained work, discovered under rocks in basements and attics, its creators often unaware their art will ever see the light of day."
Henry Darger

Far from the conventional white cube gallery, the works in this exhibition are presented in a deliberately haphazard fashion, jumbled together in exuberant, and almost overwhelming chaos. You encounter these works in a series of dimly-lit rooms, twinkling with strings of fairy-lights; ducking down rough-floored corridors under swaying bead-fringed lampshades; tripping down tottering staircases and along a labyrinth of creaking passages; peeping through windows and vitrines into miniature theatres of the obscure and eccentric.

Rev BF Perkins: King Tut Treasure

Every turn offers something unexpected to discover, from Charles August Albert Dellschau’s intricate sketchbook pages to Emery Blagdon’s complex wire ‘Healing Machines’ to Morton Bartlett’s disturbing mannequins. This mixed-up assemblage of works certainly reveals the vitality and diversity of outsider art, ranging from the meticulous, systematic order of drawings by Hioyuki Dori and Heinrich Reisenbauer to the imaginative flamboyance of Russian military enthusiast Aleksander Lobanov. Each artist offer us a glimpse of their own particular imaginary space, be it the ghostly world of medium Madge Gill’s intricate black and white drawings, in which wistful female faces appear and disappear against an elaborate backdrop of Alice-in-Wonderland kaleidoscope patterns; Aloise Corbas’s portraits of fantasy princesses with flamboyant jewels and magnificent swirling hair; or Henry Darger’s ‘Vivian Girls’ – a complex, illustrated narrative about the heroic escapades of a group of beautiful young girls, which on closer inspection is disturbed by the inclusion of sinister and subversive elements in surrealist fashion. Peeping into these inner worlds, the viewer is occasionally invited to take a closer look through magnifying glasses or binoculars, in a clever play on the distance between gazer and object, artist and spectator, insider and outsider.

George Widener: Friday Disasters (Photo: Museum of Everything)

This quirky showcase of secret artworks is accompanied by a series of texts by well-known artistic and cultural figures, including Hans Ulrich Obrist, Peter Blake, Ed Ruscha, Grayson Perry, Mark Titchener, Eva Rothschild, Jeremy Deller, Jarvis Cocker and Nick Cave; yet thankfully, on the whole they resist the temptation to over-intellectualise, or obscure these works with contemporary art jargon. Instead, in general these texts appear to focus primarily on what inspires and excites about these works, setting the tone for an exhibition which skilfully side-steps value judgements. For in the end, it doesn’t really seem to matter who has made these works, or what their ‘outsider’ status might be: far from grappling with questions of what makes these works are ‘art’, instead The Museum of Everything is primarily focused on offering the viewer an idiosyncratic gallery experience. Though this quirkiness sometimes may feel a little too contrived, this higgledy-piggledy assemblage of artworks certainly conveys a vivid sense of intensity and frenetic energy often missing from a more conventional presentation of work.

Alfred Jensen

At the end of the journey you emerge, stepping through a ribbon curtain into a cafĂ© that could be straight from a village fete – complete with tea, jam, and things to buy that have a pleasingly handmade aesthetic. Self-consciously kooky though it may well be, The Museum of Everything is certainly a memorable experience: a colourful treasure-trove of the surprising, thought-provoking and bizarre.

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17 November 2009 at 13:19 Laura Simms said...

Hey Katherine,

Saw this a few weeks ago... some of my favourite artists are involved (Henry Darger, Madge Gill). Really liked the start of the exhibition were you walk in and there's all the big sculptures of people and you really feel like you're in a crowd on another planet... Thought the building was a good choice for the work also.

Hope you are well! Laura x

17 November 2009 at 13:20 Laura Simms said...

Aleksander Lobanov work was fantastic!

23 November 2009 at 12:15 kim mcgowan said...

I was in London at the weekend for my daughter's engagement party. There wasn't time to visit the museum of everything but when i go again I'm definitely going to take Frankie (and this blog post) and do it justice. Thank you

2 November 2012 at 11:34 scott davidson said...

Some pretty designs alright. Doing the painting yourselves is more fun but a good place for ideas for more design is this site of, that I use to help with my wall decorations.
You can browse for a painting like this The tree, by 20th century Czech artist, Frantisek Kupka, for example, , that can be ordered on line and delivered to you.