Is New York Ready for Everything? James Brett Is in Town

An insider on the outs with ‘Outsider’

He’s recently made his own foray into fashion, teaming up with the designer Clements Ribeiro to create a line of dresses based on work by artists in the Selfridges exhibition. The dresses were for sale at Selfridges, as well as on the website net-a-porter, for around $200-$500. They will also be on offer at the Outsider Art Fair.

The story of how Everything got its name is nothing if not a testament to Mr. Brett’s tenacity. In 2004, Mr. Brett, who was then working in film and television (he also acted), came across a newspaper article featuring a photograph of an old man surrounded by stuff, accompanied by the caption: “William Brett in The Museum of Everything.” The reclusive man, who was in his 80s, lived with his 94-year-old wife on the Isle of Wight. He’d bought an old schoolhouse with a triple-height ceiling and filled it with stuff—record albums, bits of plastic, nets used to trap rabbits, a collection of toilet seats. It was unclear from the article whether the name of the place was his, or had come from children on the island who observed that—Wow! The place had everything. Mr. Brett visited the elder Mr. Brett and said, “Look, I’m a Brett” (they are not related); “could I open a London branch?”

“What I loved about the name,” he said, “is that it was inclusive.”

He has so far not taken a pound of government funding, though friends have advised him to pursue it. But arts funding has been substantially cut in England. “I felt it was wrong for a space like ours, a thing that’s growing, to take money away from different, larger spaces who are fighting over the same pot.” Instead he seeks out sponsors, and tends to get them. For the Selfridges show, he nearly had an unusual one. He was approached by an acquaintance who wanted to know if he would take money from the Libyan Popular Front. “I said, I guess so. It’s a bit political, but why not?” He offered the group the small plaque he provides to sponsors, indicating that it had made possible a particular artist’s display, but apparently that wasn’t sufficient space in which to present the Front’s mandate, and that was that.

It’s hard not to see Mr. Brett’s global ambitions as a bit quixotic, for a roving museum with little infrastructure. He plans to collaborate with Dasha Zhukova’s Garage Center in Moscow, and wants to do “a tour of the Middle East, and set up a workshop in every single African country.”

“When I’m on a roll,” he said (and, at the Bowery Hotel, he most certainly was), “I don’t think of anything smaller than world domination. I can assure you that The Museum of Everything will be in every country in the world.” He paused. “I’m not the best manager. I need to find a much better management system if I’m really going to do that.” Then he was off again. “I do know that I can go to any country in the world and I will find people who make these things.” Another pause. “I was just in Burma. That was hard. There wasn’t that much.” Then he brightened again. “But in Sri Lanka I found some. Wherever you go you can find it. It’s best in the places that have two societies: the haves and the have-nots. That’s why, in America, it’s so plentiful.”

sdouglas@observer.com

Is New York Ready for Everything? James Brett Is in Town