It should come as little surprise then that his current exhibition Zooooo! opened in mid-summer and is angled to appeal not to deep-pocketed collectors, but to children.
Focusing on self-taught and folk art, the show offers a bestiary, from insects to blue whales to dinosaurs. More than 50 artists and many anonymous hands feature in around 150 works with prices ranging from £100-100,000. Launched at the Mayfair, London, gallery in July, it continues until September 18.
“We really wanted to helm a summer exhibition to give people something to see and do, especially as so many London galleries close down for July and August (most high-end buyers are away, but that’s not quite our demographic!)”, he tells ATG.
He and Simon Grant, former editor of Tate Etc and co-curator of last year’s Georgiana Houghton show at the Courtauld, hatched a plan to stage an exhibition that put kids first, “which wasn’t pejorative, but which talked ‘up’ to them”.
Young visitors enter the menagerie through a purpose-built doorway sized for a seven-year-old (there is a larger entrance off to the side for adults) and are faced with a huge selection of images. The gallery, formerly a barber shop, is a compact space. Pictures and sculptures fill its nooks and crannies.
Some are jumbled together in the academy-style hang in the front room. Others are exhibited thematically.
‘Snake Corner’, for example, includes works by Willie Massey (1906-90), an African-American folk artist from Kentucky, and Alexander Calder, one of the more mainstream names in the show, while in ‘Lion and Tiger Nook’ there are works by Alevtina Pyzhova (1936- 2021) of Russia and Jake McCord (1945-2009), a black American Contemporary artist.
“Part of the idea is to get kids to learn how to look and see, and to understand that art is for them and about them”, Brett adds. “Of course, we are a commercial gallery, so we also hope some will want to choose pictures for their bedrooms – and that’s happening.”
He recalls a boy who came in and fell in love with the large painting of a tiger by McCord “but the father even more so. I reckon it’s moot whose bedroom the painting will end up in.”
Another family visited on a day out. “The kids went straight for a mule from the 1930s by legendary Bill Traylor – the former slave who painted street life in Alabama. The work happened to be one of the most expensive in the show, so the parents sort of smiled and asked them politely to make another choice.”
He quickly adds that many of the works are in the more affordable range and that accessibility was key.
There is a particular focus on black American artists such as William Hawkins (1895-1990) and Mose Tolliver (1918-2006) as well as those mentioned above.
Elsewhere in the show are familiar anthropomorphised creatures by Louis Wain (1860-1939). Look out for a miniature sculpture ‘park’ out back, while sculptures by Brett’s professed hero Nek Chand Saini (1924- 2015) join other Indian artworks downstairs.
Zoooo! is just one piece of an exhausting programme the gallery has planned for this year. So far it has taken inaugural stands at Photo London and Masterpiece. Next month it is an exhibitor at the Outsider Art Fair in Paris showing carvings by the Italian artist Pietro Moschini and in the autumn it takes a stand both at Frieze Masters and at 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair.
Proceeds from the sales support The Museum of Everything, Brett’s original venture, a non-profit which showcases artists and makers ‘beyond the cultural mainstream’. The gallery also raises awareness itself.
“The idea is to make these works affordable”, Brett says. “To have people engage and to buy.”
Cast your eye
Also focusing on family this summer is Zuleika Gallery, which stages two shows in Woodstock, Oxfordshire.
At its main gallery is The Die is Cast dedicated to recent works by Contemporary artist Patrick Hughes. His work in ‘reverse perspective’ pictures, which protrude out of their frames, dates back to the 1960s. Eight are on offer.
The exhibition runs until August 29. It has been attracting some healthy foot traffic from families with children entranced by the illusions, according to the gallery.
Meanwhile, at Blenheim Palace the gallery stages Paul Maze and Winston Churchill: Companions of the Brush.
It focuses on the friendship between the Anglo-French artist, who was the official artist of the queen’s coronation in 1953, and the British politician. It features paintings by both from the private collection of the Duke of Marlborough and various loans.
Though the Blenheim exhibition is loan-based, a few works in it are available from Panter and Hall (of Pall Mall and Cecil Court in London).
The gallery also has a show of John Pipers in its second room, including a small sketch dating to 1933.