Can an artist examine the culture of self promotion in today’s society with a self promoting show called ‘The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!’?
‘When I came up with this title, I liked it because it chimed with one of my ongoing ambitions – to widen the audience for art without dumbing it down. Mainly I liked it because it made me giggle but popularity is a serious business. Ask any politician.’
Perry first came to the attention of the general public in 2003, as the first transvestite potter to win the Turner Prize. Since then, his profile has steadily grown and he is now a familiar face on British TV, whether as his alter-ego Claire or as himself. ‘All In The Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry‘ was the Bafta-winning documentary series produced to accompany ‘The Vanity of Small Difference’s‘ – 6 tapestries examining class and taste in modern British society, inspired by Hogarth’s ‘The Rake’s Progress’. This and subsequent documentaries have brought Perry out of the Art World and into the nation’s living rooms, promoting and building his ‘brand’ and our understanding of the themes which occupy him.
The art in ‘The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!’ tackles everything from identity, gender and sexuality to politics and Brexit. The new pieces, such as the two beautiful large scale woodcut prints (Reclining Artist and Animal Spirit) and the pair of Brexit vases, continue Perry’s examination of Britain today and the pieces we saw at the British Museum captivate and demand re-examination.
The show is thought provoking and captivating, and yet I left the exhibition feeling a little flat, a little disappointed, and I wasn’t sure why. Has familiarity with Grayson and Claire as personalities and presenters started to distract from the work? Has the extracurricular work diluted, rather than strengthened his art?
At his best, Perry’s art challenges us to question our preconceptions and assumptions about the Britain we live in, yet where was that sense of surprise here? The show is insightful, political and questioning and there is a sense of anger and disappointment here. But that is exactly what you would expect from Grayson’s greatest hits. Maybe that’s why I left feeling a little ‘blah’.
So what we have is a self-promoting sales opportunity, a warning and a critique on chaotic and conflicted Brexit Britain all at the same time. Is this the flavour of having your cake and eating it?
‘The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!’ runs Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park till the 10th September.
All text and photos ©Jonathan Dredge, except ‘Animal Spirit (Large)’ photo Stephen White. All artwork © Grayson Perry.