Karen Wright ponders in the Independent whether it makes sense that the exhibition Grayson Perry: Who Are You at National Portrait Gallery (London, October 25, 2014 -March 15, 2015) draws more crowds than yet another (yawn) exhibition, also in the Gallery, about William Morris. In part it is because CBE-recipient Perry is not just a fascinating artist but one of the best curators working today. Also in latching on to his Britishness she pinpoints why Grayson has never made it big in New York or other art hubs abroad. Please read Wright’s full piece at the Independent and check out our companion piece this week with Perry and de Vries.
Entering the National Portrait Gallery it becomes clear that Grayson Perry CBE has become a national phenomenon. Crowded from the instance of its opening, Grayson Perry: Who Are You? includes 14 new works produced to accompany his new series of the same name on Channel 4, and Playing to the Gallery: Helping Contemporary Art in its Struggle to be Understood, his new book…
This arguably small display encourages the viewer to meander throughout the first-floor contemporary portrait galleries in a quasi treasure hunt and discover the works, each marked with a distinctive “Who Are You?” logo. Perry’s pots are familiar but in the last few years he has added new mediums, turning towards tapestry and sculpture – both present here.
Perry’s subjects for this show are “individuals, families or groups that somehow represent some important facets of the nature of our identity”, and as could be expected some are more familiar to us than others. The disgraced politician Chris Huhne is present here on the Huhne vase (2014).
In a frieze that normally would contain geometric triglyphs, Huhne’s face is repeated alongside simplified phalluses and speed cameras. Perry chose to break the vase and have it repaired in the kintsugi traditional Japanese method that emphasizes the repair, saying “I have smashed the vase and repaired it with gold to symbolise that vulnerability might be an asset in relationships for such a person.”
Comfort Blanket, a large tapestry with the Queen as centrepiece, weaves together national treasures – including curry, fish and chips, the Magna Carta, suffragettes and a seemingly random list of famous people, like David Bowie, Edward Elgar and Jamie Oliver, in a decorative riff of colourful patterns.
My personal favorite is a trio of busty vases celebrating three women, Melanie, Georgina and Sarah: “three woman large and proud of their size.” Perry says that he has chosen to portray them as curvaceous and “vaguely antique heretic figures.”
Does this show merit the kind of attention it is receiving, and also its attendance figures? Nearby the more typical National Portrait Gallery exploration of William Morris is less well-attended.
But the pots are sublimely beautiful after all. The subject matter here is so definitely mired in Britishness; perhaps it is fitting to claim Perry and Claire as our personal favorites and not look for earthshaking insights.
Review by Karen Wright of the Independent.
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