Grayson Perry: The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! at Serpentine Gallery
Grayson Perry is a popular artist. His work is colourful, accessible, and his charming female alter-ego Claire is a favourite of society photographers. As his current documentary series for Channel 4 – Divided Britain – demonstrates, he is able to offer eloquent political commentary as well as to approach the average man or woman in the street and get them to open up about their political views. His recent book about the social positioning of masculinity was also well received, showing his insightfulness as a cultural commentator.
However, with all this going on, there’s a feeling that his art is being somewhat sidelined. His show at the Serpentine, modestly titled “the most popular art exhibition ever”, has lots of the motifs by Perry that the public has come to know and love; but herein lies the main problem. We’ve seen it all before.
The display centres around the recent Brexit referendum and includes pieces inspired by his research for his documentary series. However, although the subject-matter is new and current, the techniques are very much tried and tested for Perry. Colourful tapestries are a go-to medium for the artist, and while they are beautiful and meticulously well made, the inclusion of household brand names and graffiti no longer seems particularly radical.
The Brexit vases, newly made for the exhibition, are aesthetically interesting, decorated with images of things liked by Remainers on the one hand, and Leavers on the other. Nigel Farage’s Twitter profile picture stares up at viewers, alongside the Marmite logo and cups of tea. The irony, of course, is that it’s initially hard to tell which vase represents which group.
However, there is a sense that the “evidence” Perry has gathered is too anecdotal to be of much interest, and that the Brexit vote is too recent to really mean much in historical or sociocultural terms yet. One can’t help wondering whether these vases will have any meaning at all in a decade’s time. Perhaps that’s the point, but there’s little in the exhibition to suggest it is.
It’s a shame, because many of Perry’s works retain their attractive, irreverant aesthetic and walking round the exhibition makes for an enjoyable experience, but one which lacks substance.
Photo: Robert Glowacki
Grayson Perry: The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever is at Serpentine Gallery from 8th June until 10th September 2017, for further information visit here.