12 July – 25 August, 2017
British artist Grayson Perry (born in 1960) uses traditional media such as tapestry, ceramic, and print-making to explore his fascination with contemporary social issues and the often provocative topics of religion, sex, gender, politics, class and identity. In 2003 Perry won the Turner Prize, the most prestigious contemporary art award in the UK. He collected the award dressed as a woman, his alter ego “Claire”, in order to demonstrate his interest in identity, which is also found in his art. Since then he has become a loved and popular figure who presents television programmes and radio shows alongside his visual arts practice, speaking openly and frankly about the value of art in society.
This exhibition presents the artist’s largest single body of work to date, a series of tapestries entitled The Vanity of Small Differences. Tapestry is an art form historically often used to decorate the homes of aristocratic families with religious, military or mythical scenes, so Perry plays with the status of tapestry by using it to depict everyday scenarios and characters. The artist’s works are rich in both content and colour, incorporating autobiographical references as well as mapping contemporary British society.
The six tapestries tell a story of 21st century social mobility in the UK through the life of Tim Rakewell, a fictional character created by Grayson Perry. Tim is born into a working class family but rises to middle class status by going to university, making money and marrying into a richer family. He then experiences the financial burdens of the upper classes and tragically dies in a car accident. By creating Tim, Perry is playfully mirroring the 18th-century English artist William Hogarth’s series of paintings, A Rake’s Progress, that show the rise and fall of a character called Tom Rakewell.
The tapestries were inspired by Perry’s trips to three regions in England where he met different groups considered to be working class, middle class and upper class. His interviews, photographs, notes and sketchbook drawings of his journey helped him to investigate the tastes of different social circles. As part of the exhibition, you can watch a television documentary series that was made about Perry’s research process and the creation of the tapestries.
The Vanity of Small Differences is jointly owned by The British Council Collection, the Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London. Gift of the artist and Victoria Miro Gallery, with the support of Channel 4 Television, the Art Fund and Sfumato Foundation with additional support from Alix Partners.