grayson perry: the tomb of the unknown craftsman at the british museum

13 January 2012 § 1 Comment

Grayson Perry seems to have rather a marmite love-hate relationship with some of the British art world. I suspect that for his critics this is rather more due to the somewhat cosy relationship that he has with the mass media than his artistic abilities, after all what other contemporary artist appears on Have I Got News For You, features in documentaries or stars on TV chat shows? Perhaps he is rather too popular with the public for those who prefer their artists to be a bit more like, well, contemporary artists. In any case he is sure to be even more popular after this wonderful exhibition – will they hate him more or less? I suspect they’ll have to bite their lip and admit his great talent.

At the British Museum Perry has been given free rein to dig in to their vast collection and he has selected exceptionally well. Picking charming and quirky pieces – what else would we expect? – he celebrates the craftsmen and women who have made all those pieces that adorn the museum. Items cover two million years and feature diverse themes – you will find perhaps religious icons, grotesque masks, tiny reliquaries, strange totems, modern badges and pre-Columbian pots. There are inevitably plenty of phalluses, a bit of cross dressing, some sexual politics – all are linked by Perry’s own creations that are slipped in amongst them.

Jumping from culture to culture, leaping through time – and purpose – objects are juxtaposed to great effect. The biggest shock perhaps is that it is virtually seamless. The old and new mingle as if created at least by the same souls or spirits, if not the selfsame hand. Untold millennia of craft merges in to one fascinating, witty and often moving exhibition. The show culminates with the celebratory cast-iron ‘tomb’ which in the form of a boat carries a flint hand axe (the oldest artefact in the museum) as well as vials of blood sweat and tears, and sails ever onward. We emerge with feeling of connection with the past – a glorious celebration of human creativity and cultural diversity. 

At the British Museum until 19 February 2012.

Grayson Perry is represented by Victoria Miro.

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