The exhibit opening today at Turin’s Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli is titled “The Museum of Everything,” and it’s just that. Within several gallery rooms, there is a ceramic kingdom created by an Indian road inspector, flying creatures made of colorful wool threads and bunnies covered in bottle caps.
It’s not your typical high-art fare, but the artists whose work is displayed are not typical either. The 300 paintings, sculptures, drawings and installations were produced by self-taught craftsmen, many of whom possess physical or mental disabilities. Several of the displays, which include multiple works by the same artist, reflect a single theme — or in some cases, mania. “This is art by people who are not traditional artists, who didn’t know their works would be seen and who never did anything with the intention of doing art — it was an emotional outlet for them,” says entrepreneur James Brett, who has assembled the pieces as a private collection — a sort of mania within itself, he admits.
Brett’s assortment was first presented as “Exhibition #1” in conjunction with Frieze Art Fair in October 2009 and drew the attention of Fiat heir Ginevra Elkann, head of the Pinacoteca. “I am interested in this kind of art, and nothing similar has really ever been done in Italy,” says Elkann, whose previous shows for the Pinacoteca were also centered on private collections. “I see this as an opportunity for Turin.” (Elkann broke ground here in fall 2007 with the “Why Africa?” exhibit, where she unearthed contemporary African works collected by Jean Pigozzi.)
Brett describes the “everything assembly” as “very democratic, but the antithesis of global art. They exist everywhere, but most are thrown away. [They all revolve around] an idea that repeats itself.”
For instance, medium Madge Gill channeled her spirit guide, Myrninerest, in her paintings, depicting her over and over again. Hiroyuki Doi, a former chef who flew in from Japan for the opening, explained his compulsive passion for circles, exemplified by his hypnotic pen-drawn works: “The circle is the perfect shape, and it relaxes me to focus on it,” he says.
Other pieces include Henry Darger’s paintings of children, which helped him come to terms with his own abusive childhood. Carlo Zinelli’s double-faced paintings of soldiers with holes in their bodies and crosses in the background were a means for him to express his devastating war experience, which resulted in a crippling shell-shock break down.
“There is no distance between the artist and his work, which is not symbolic. It’s his own life, expressed in obsessive ways and repetitive forms,” says curator Paolo Colombo. These pieces, he adds, helped the artist survive, and, in some cases, were their only way to communicate. “They are the nonadulterated expression of the artists’ souls.”
“The Museum of Everything” is at Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella through Aug. 29.