no selection

No Selection

We had decided that we were going to try to organise a group exhibition with no selection procedure whatsoever where anyone who heard about the show could take part. We went over to South London to discuss it with Hercules Fisherman and Armar who said “I produced a punk magazine in New York where anyone could submit anything and we would print it … it was called Our Wonderful Culture.”

The climate of London at the time was so repressive that few really believed that anyone could seriously consider such an outrageous proposal, and carry it out in public. We typed up a statement laying out the premise for the exhibition; that it would be ‘overhung’ like a ruined museum with no selection procedure, a fee of five pounds to cover the cost of cards, postage and publicity and each participant was to spend at least one day in the space looking after the show. It started from there and quickly began to circulate by word of mouth.

We soon began to receive phone calls which went something like “I hear that you are organising an exhibition in central London and wondered if I could take part … do you want to visit my studio and see my work? No … so, I just turn up with my work? Great! … Can I tell someone else about it?” Then we also remember … “I just paid fifteen pounds to be rejected from the Whitechapel Open and you’re telling me that I can be in this show without even submitting my work?”

The next time we met, Hercules had invited along a junior curator from Riverside Studios in West London. She could not believe that we were serious about our intention not to enforce any quality control over the show and warned us that we would end up with a lot of rubbish. We explained to her that the whole concept of the show was to allow the audience to make up their own minds. She confidently predicted a disaster and left us to it.1

We arranged for the exhibition to open on a Thursday evening the same time as other openings close by. We remember standing in the middle of one of the rooms of the Crypt which was so packed that you could hardly move, watching people drinking and smoking and thinking about the ‘fire risk’ of the straw on the floor, and there being no fire exit.

On the Sunday, it was reviewed in the mainstream press which guaranteed that it was a great succès de scandale. Sarah Kent, then art critic at Time Out magazine, told us that she would not review the show because she thought it “looked like a mess” … which of course it did! One aspiring critic pointed to a work in the show by a student of Goldsmiths College and said “I like that … because it’s conceptual” to which we replied “In this show everything’s conceptual.”

Work continued to appear throughout the exhibition, including a painting by the church warden. Every day that we visited there were different groups of people getting to know each other discussing the show. Stewart Home, under the alias of Karen Eliot, turned up with copies of Smile magazine, and together with Ed Baxter, Simon Dickason, Tom McGlynn, Stefan Szczelkun and ourselves, a fractious loose group evolved, united by a common loathing of metropolitan provincialism. 2

The ‘excessive’ nature of Our Wonderful Culture functioned as a dramatic challenge to the exclusion zone which was the artworld at the time, where almost nothing ever happened without public funding. 3 There is no complete list of all the participants in the exhibition – as Willard Grant Conspiracy might say ‘anyone who says they were involved in Our Wonderful Culture most probably was.’ 4

Our Wonderful Culture also heralded the beginnings of a paradigm shift which was continued by the self-organised exhibitions Freeze, East Country Yard Show and many others which followed later. Unsurprisingly, Our Wonderful Culture has been left out of the conventional narrative of recent history.

These days, despite the contemporary financialisation of art, and the massive expansion of the artworld, including curators, curating courses and museums, Our Wonderful Culture may serve as a critique of the promotion of the democratisation of the consumption but not of the production of art – that is, art for all rather than everyone is an artist.


1 Some weeks after the triumph of Our Wonderful Culture she curated an ‘overhung’ exhibition called Interference at Riverside Studios which featured three or four of the artists from the show.
2 Hercules Fisherman went on to organise a follow-up exhibition Our Wonderful Culture: The Voyage which included some of the same participants. He also produced a limited-edition magazine called Our Wonderful Culture which ran to a few issues. We contributed an essay Modernism, Mass Media and Audience to the first issue.
3 c.f. The Cultural Devolution: Art in Britain in the Late 20th Century Neil Mulholland. Ashgate. 2003. A survey of the recent history of the the artworld transition from a publicly-funded exclusion zone to a market-led ‘populism’; which includes a single mention of Art in Ruins … as “established artists.”
4 Our Wonderful Culture included two or three young artists who went on to be included in what became known as Young British Art (yBa’s), and a couple of years after the show we met one of the participants at an opening who said “I remember you. You did that Wonderful Culture show which I was in … it was amazing.”
We told her that we were thinking of re-presenting the exhibition. She looked at us in horror and cried “You can’t … you’ll destroy my career!”


anyone can bring anything at any time into a gallery space
Benjamin Buchloh