Exhibition Of The Month
Grayson Perry @ Arnolfini
Ever the showman, Grayson Perry’s touring exhibition at Bristol’s Arnolfini Art Gallery had bells and whistles aplenty. A major show by one of the world’s most charismatic artists and searingly astute commentators on contemporary society, it had all Perry’s hallmarks: tapestries, pots and knobs.
With tongue firmly in cheek – Grayson Perry: The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! – tackled one of his primary concerns: how contemporary art can best address a diverse cross section of society. On show for the first time outside of London, it helped to revive lacklustre visiting figures for the Arnolfini and in effect answered it’s own question (180,000 visitors are estimated to have visited across the run).
Perry said: “I am in the communication business and I want to communicate to as wide an audience as possible. Nothing pleases me more than meeting someone at one of my exhibitions from what museum people call ‘a non-traditional background.’ The new works I am making all have ideas about popularity hovering around them. What kind of art do people like? What subjects? Why do people like going to art galleries these days? What is the relationship of traditional art to social media?”
In the show, Perry grapples with many of the themes that recur in his practice and have made him such a trailblazing artist. He explores his own childhood and life as a transvestite, as well as wider social issues such as masculinity, class, politics, sex, religion, popularity and art, as well as contemporary issues such as Brexit and ‘Divided Britain’.
The variety of traditional media Perry worked with was refreshing, and included ceramics, cast iron, bronze, printmaking, and tapestry. His pieces fizzed with his characteristic energy and gregariousness. Never shy of courting controversy, Perry’s Object in Foreground is a 68-centimetre-tall glazed ceramic phallus adorned with bank notes, images of city workers, and the face of the politician George Osborne. One clearly not for the faint of heart.
At other times, with different pieces, Perry plays unashamedly to his audience. His crowd-friendly painted pushbike Princess Freedom Bicycle and his fabulously kitsch motorbike Patience drew smiles from the young and old alike, no matter how they voted in Brexit. A overall thumbs up from us at Polleni.