15 November 2011

Grayson Perry at the British Museum

In 2009 many people had the chance to see the Hayward Gallery’s touring exhibition, Unpopular Culture, which had been curated by Grayson Perry drawing on the Arts Council Collection. Perry is well-known for having won the Turner Prize in 2003 and for his transvestism. Most of his work consists of large decorated pots, and he can be dismissed as a potter rather than an artist. But I thought that the selection of British art he made for Unpopular Culture was informed and informative, and that the thoughts and opinions which accompanied the exhibition and that he inscribed on his pots revealed a sharp and knowing mind. Unpopular Culture had been preceded in 2006 by The Charms of Lincolnshire (left) where he put some of his own work alongside historical artefacts selected from the county’s museums.

Grayson has now curated The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman, an installation of some of his new works alongside objects from the British Museum’s collection. On entry visitors are confronted by You Are Here (below left), covered in images of people like themselves and captioned to suggest that Grayson takes a realistic view of his audience’s motivations for coming. What follows provides a dialogue between Grayson’s craftsmanship and that of his anonymous predecessors over the centuries. He has a good eye for an interesting artefact and his own contributions reveal his intelligence and industriousness. His Rosetta Vase, (below right) covered with mid-2011 mots du jour and a satirical map of the contemporary art exhibition scene, amused me (in view of recent posts) with its inscriptions ‘babyboomers’ and ‘post-post-modernism’, as well as a quotation from the now somewhat forgotten Jacob Bronowski – presumably Grayson may have seen his television series, The Ascent of Man, (and counterpart to Lord Clark’s Civilisation), when a teenager in the 1970s.  

Some people may find Grayson’s feminine alter ego, Claire, and his teddy bear/personal god, Alan Measles, off-putting, (the latter had ample coverage in BBC1’s recent Imagine) but I think they should put that aside and look at the creativity of his work before forming an opinion. The BM exhibition continues until 19 February.


The Tate has recently made available one of its Bloomberg TateShots of Grayson in his studio during the making of Rosetta Vase.


Decca Aitkenhead interviews Grayson Perry at the Guardian's Open Weekend.

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