GRAYSON PERRY: POLITICS AND POTTERY COMBINE IN A WRY PRESENTATION FROM A NATIONAL TREASURE

Akin Oladimeji, October 2020 

Is it possible to approach a Grayson Perry exhibition neutrally knowing what you do about him, the fact that he’s Britain’s most famous potter, a Turner-prize winning one at that, author, broadcaster, loves racing around in flamboyant gear on his motorbike, and even more outrageously (at least for the reactionary right-wingers he claims are more forgiving than liberal lefties) loves wearing garish makeup and dressing up as a pre-pubescent girl, has an endearing Sid James cackle and a wife, Phillipa, that’s also gaining national prominence as a writer and explorer of people’s minds? Good thing his show is a brilliant balance of satire and perceptive look at the current state of the United States as it goes to the polls to elect its next leader.

 Grayson Perry 

© Richard Ansett

 

Since the eighties, Perry has been using a medium associated with antiquity – ceramic vases – to reflect contemporary concerns. He himself notes he’s making stuff that’s seductive and covetable for rich people and yet substantial enough to go into museums. My favourites have always been the ones with tongue-in-cheek humour like in this show where he inscribes on a vase: 'Hi, this is my 7-hour-long multiscreen gallery-based video project about widening accessibility to visual art’. That’s him lampooning those artists that feel their endurance art holds any interest outside of a small circle of devoted art world enthusiasts. Or it might be him ribbing those left-wingers who are out of touch with the working class. Or could he be affectionately poking fun at his gallerist who has spaces in expensive areas with galleries that you need to book appointments to visit nowadays?

As you enter the gallery you can’t help noticing the biggest piece: a tapestry  - Very Large Very Expensive Abstract Painting - that has lines representing the Manhattan subway system with Pollock squiggles along them. There are words like Modern slavery, zoning, and many others that reflect the cultural and economic forces that power the country. Manhattan is the centre of the art world and used to be the cultural epicentre, but it’s now an overpriced area and the work helps to depict the fact the major schism in the country is between the top ten per cent (many of whom live or work in Manhattan) and the rest of the country.

 Installation view, Grayson Perry: The MOST Specialest Relationship 

15 September–31 October 2020 

Victoria Miro, 16 Wharf Road, London N1 7RW

© Grayson Perry 

Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro 

The title of the exhibition, The MOST Specialist Relationship, echoes a phrase that many British and American leaders have used to describe the connection between the two countries. Propped up against the opposite wall are two plates at either end depicting someone, presumably the artist on his motorbike, with the captions I love America and I hate America on them, reflecting the ambiguity of his feelings for the country. Between them, there is another plate called Aspects of my Sexuality and Gender Dressed up as Colonial Settlers. The name of the work is pretty self-explanatory as it shows Claire, his little girl alter-ego, and Alan Measles, his teddy bear, wearing nineteenth-century European clothes arriving in the US to settle. It is pretty with a sort of innocence about it whilst making a biting comment about land appropriation.

 Installation view, Grayson Perry: The MOST Specialest Relationship 

15 September–31 October 2020 

Victoria Miro, 16 Wharf Road, London N1 7RW

© Grayson Perry 

Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro 

Another notable work is a piece – The American Dream - with Mark Zuckerberg’s face drawn at the top of a spider diagram.  It’s as if he’s a god at the centre of social media storms and you could say the work epitomises how social media supports both positive issues – intersectionality, animal rights, organic food – and negatives – pile-ons, Bikers for Trump, insults like ‘overdeveloped sense of entitlement’. Perry stated in an online tour conducted with the critic Louisa Buck that the niche issues on the Zuckerberg map are a distraction from the major problem facing society: economic inequality. I didn’t get that sense but did appreciate the piece on a visual level, how there was so much to take in, just like the rest of the show, which has ideas thrown around with giddy abandon, Perry gleefully forcing you to engage with the ills besetting the US and, by extension, the polarised UK in these end times.

 Installation view, Grayson Perry: The MOST Specialest Relationship 

15 September–31 October 2020 

Victoria Miro, 16 Wharf Road, London N1 7RW

© Grayson Perry 

Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro 

Grayson Perry at Victoria Miro
online.victoria-miro.com/graysonperry-london2020/

16 Wharf Road, London, N1 7RW 

Open until 31 October 2020

© 2020 by Assemblage Magazine.

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