Striking a balance between inclusivity and respect for individual artists seems to be the major challenge of mounting a “we’ll show everything” exhibition. Artist
took on this challenge, too, back in 2012, when he curated an open-call show at Family Business (a pocket gallery in Chelsea created by
and Massimiliano Gioni). But in contrast to Sterns, he wasn’t initially concerned about creating an inviting and accessible space.
At first, Musson had planned to fill the tiny gallery with as much art as possible, stacking it floor to ceiling and calling the whole thing a critique of the over-saturation of the art world. But as soon as he began meeting the contributing artists, his approach shifted radically. “Meeting the wide range of artists who submitted work, from 12-year-olds to people in their eighties, I realized that I couldn’t be callous with their work,” he tells me, reflecting on the experience several years later.“This was a chance for many of them to show work in probably the most public context they’d known, so I tried to mount as ‘proper’ a show as I could to give their work some shine.”
The resulting show “Itsa Small, Small World,” turned into an an impromptu block party, with revelers filling the street as people waited for a chance to squeeze into the tiny gallery, which was entirely covered—walls, floor, and ceiling—with art. “It was still chaotic and insane,” Musson admitted, “but hey, I tried.”
The common thread that links these two shows, in spite of their distinct curatorial approaches, is the outpouring of interest and excitement that each generated from artists. In both cases, the curators were nearly overwhelmed by the magnitude of the response, which prompts the question: What does this outpouring of interest in open call shows say about accessibility in the art world?
“It says that artists want an audience, and that they feel disenfranchised by an opaque and baroque-ass power structure that tosses hurdles upon hurdles at them,” Musson concluded. “From academia to the gallery, it’s all hurdles.”
The art world is so often circumscribed by exclusivity, cliquishness, and limited access, that the act of giving space on a wall to someone who hasn’t cleared those hurdles seems radical. Or, as Sterns puts it, “It’s subversive to be so open.”