Sunday, 16 October 2011

Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman

In a much-publicised move, Turner Prize winning potter Grayson Perry – who is sometimes known for alter-ego Claire – has curated an installation that combines his own new works with objects from forgotten craftsmen that have been tucked away in the expansive archives at the British Museum.

The British Museum is always a delight to visit, whether marveling at the magnitude of the space it occupies in Bloomsbury, standing in the foyer with your head tilted back to admire the huge glass roof, or wandering around the many galleries to take in the history of the world.
But up the staircase to the Perry’s gallery, he takes visitors into the world of forgotten craftsmen, which the publicity is calling “a sacred journey” – perhaps in tribute to Perry’s own 10-day pilgrimage through Germany with his teddy bear Alan Measles. And the beautifully decorated motorbike, complete with reclining Alan, is on display as you enter the exhibition. It’s wonderful, so intricate.
Unlike some contemporary artists, Perry actually makes his work himself, and is clearly skilled as a potter. His famous vases are decorated in witty captions that contrast well with the ancient pieces from the archives that they sit beside. And the first thing you see on entering the gallery is one of Perry’s pots that is decorated with images of the different types of people who he imagines may have come to see his exhibition, and what they would get out of it (“I’m here as it’s the sort of thing people like me come to”, “I heard about it on Twitter”). 

But Perry is more than a potter. One of my favourite of his pieces is an enormous, meticulously crafted tapestry (extract above) that is modeled on the design of the British Museum building, yet incorporates a unique map of the world. Other highlights of Perry’s creation include his pencil drawing showing his pilgrimage to the British Museum and, of course, the centerpiece: an enormous and beautifully decorated cast iron coffin-ship.
Unsure what to expect from Perry’s exhibition, I came away impressed. Aside from the fact that the bulk of his work is actually made by him (or so it seems), the attention to detail and ribbing of contemporary life sits perfectly against the artifacts he has chosen from the last two million years of creativity.

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