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Grayson Perry Presents: The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!

June 22, 2017

ArtsMixed Media | by Candid Magazine

It takes a brave kind of artist to declare that their work is the best thing since sliced bread, but that is exactly what Grayson Perry has done for his new show at the Serpentine Gallery. His title, ‘The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!’ may seem like a bold claim, but judging by the crowds already gathering in Hyde Park this summer, Perry might just live up to his own reputation.

Turner Prize winner Grayson Perry is best known for the escapades of his alter ego Claire: an ultra-feminine character modelled on Little Bo Beep who arrived at the Turner award ceremony in 2003 dressed in a party frock. Throughout the years Perry has made a name for himself as a cross-dresser as well as a ferocious social commentator, with a barrage of documentaries, books and even a series of Reith Lectures to his name. And of course – he has managed to make ceramics sexy again.

Grayson Perry, Animal Spirit, 2016 Woodcut printed, Heritage White, Courtesy the Artist, Paragon Press and Victoria Miro, London, Photography: Stephen White © Grayson Perry.

At the Serpentine, Perry holds no punches as he tackles the subjects that he loves best: politics, gender and popular culture in this crazy mixed-up world of ours. When visitors enter the gallery they’ll find a woodcut of Perry’s naked body as body male and female on display, reclining like a modern day Olympia. It’s clear that Perry has never been one to shy away from the spotlight and this image perfectly sums up his bold, tongue-in-cheek way of making art.

The main thrust of the show is political, with the starring role taken by two vases Perry made for a recent Channel 4 documentary to embody the Leave and Remain campaigns. These two pots stare each other down from across the gallery space in what can only be described as a Brexit stalemate.

Grayson Perry Matching Pair, 2017 Glazed ceramic Diptych Each: 105 x 51 cm Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London (photograph Robert Glowacki) © Grayson Perry.

Perry goes on to confront political divisions with two large tapestries: one that weaves the topography of a ‘Them’ and ‘Us’ society and another that pictures a dark urban landscape with a rainbow on the horizon. Political stars Jeremy Corbyn, Theresa May and Donald Trump also make an appearance on a pot to illustrate the curious journeys of Claire with her childhood bear Alan Measles. Even Kate Middleton doesn’t get off scot-free as a newly imagined Virgin Mary etched on the back of a skateboard.

Having unravelled the idea of masculinity in his recent book ‘The Descent of Man’, Perry now turns his attention to the concept of manliness. Testosterone abounds in images of working class men boxing and phallic ceramics. Perry even looks to his own marriage to psychotherapist Philippa Perry for inspiration, with a curious shrine to the couple clad in Russian doll-like costumes.

Grayson Perry, Installation view, Serpentine Gallery, London (08 June 2017 – 10 September 2017). Image © 2017 Robert Glowacki.

There is an endless whimsy and witticism to Perry’s latest exhibition, which only becomes more complex the more time that you give to it. And this is definitely not just for contemporary art aficionados. Perry is positively allergic to elitism and welcomes a bit of anti art-snobbery any day. After all – popularity is in the eye of the beholder.

By Claire Phillips

Grayson Perry: The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! 8 June – 10 September 2017, Serpentine Gallery, London.