Grayson Perry pays tribute to past anonymous craftsmen by making their work relevant to todays contemporary society. His curated exhibition at the British Museum showcases a selection of their artifacts alongside his own art which deals with similar topics.
Perry may be most known for his ceramic vases and cross-dressing, but the exhibition proves that there is so much more to him and his art. He calls himself an ‘object lover in a digital age’ and uses a variety of materials with uttermost skill, often borrowing ‘the familiar clothes of the antique so as to lend gravitas to what it has to say’.
‘All art has once been contemporary’, he says, and questions the different ways we view the artifacts to contemporary art and culture.
Perry compares his role as an artist to that of a shaman or witch doctor. ‘I dress up, I tell stories, give things meaning and make them a bit more significant’. It is this skill which helps bring out the essence of the artifacts, and that essence is then expressed through his own work.
The main subject is his childhood teddy-bear Alan Measles, the living god in his imaginary world. Alan takes on a lot of different roles throughout the exhibition. We see him as a military hero, a prehistoric gold Pubic Alan Dogu and a pilgrim traveling in a pope Mobile through Germany on Perry’s AM1 motorcycle.
But Alan Measles does not make the exhibition into a satire, he helps us to start viewing the ancient art with the same intuitive eyes we use when we view contemporary art. It helps us to not get lost in details and to not be intimidated by the grandeur of the museum, but to engage with the artifacts. Skill, beauty and history is fused with humor, passion, wisdom, personal anecdotes and thoughts. A perfect combination for a long lasting impression.
(Also, I had the pleasure to meet Perry yesterday on the UAL’s Central Saint Martins Kings Cross opening. Ellen took initiative and told him ‘hi my friend has talked about your exhibition all week but is too scared to make contact’. And then he had the pleasure to listen to my praise for at least two good minutes…)