Hannah Wakefield checks out Arnolfini’s new exhibition for autumn, and meets Grayson Perry, the man behind the magic.
As a long-time fan of Grayson Perry I am thrilled at the prospect of seeing him in the flesh. I wait nervously in the entrance of the Arnolfini with other journalists also taking part in the press tour, and felt very busy and important, but cannot contain my glee.
We are guided upstairs to the top floor of the exhibit where we were greeted by Grayson Perry himself alongside the new director of the gallery, Claire Doherty. Grayson has come as his alter ego, Claire, wearing a flamboyant dress made from different blue ginghams layered in ruffles, with extravagant blue and purple eyeshadow, and a contrasting yellow handbag.
After a photo opportunity, Perry explains to us how this is the first exhibition he had given a name to before commencing working on the pieces. Usually, a difficult task left until the end, this title, The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!, is designed to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Waitrose and Ocado lorries that can be seen in the bottom right corner of the piece, when they are seen in a political context, become ‘middle class tanks’
A large focus of the exhibition is the political state of Britain and Brexit, and the divides it has caused. There are two pieces in particular that deal with this, the first is Battle of Britain, a tapestry inspired by Paul Nash’s painting of the same title.
If you look closely you can see on the left side of the landscape ‘Vote Leave’ graffitied on the backs of houses, and on the other side a sign reading ‘Eurotunnel next left’, making the divide clear. Perry has layered more and more on the tapestry, playing up to associations that the public make when confronted with certain images and ideas, for example, the Waitrose and Ocado lorries that can be seen in the bottom right corner of the piece, when they are seen in a political context, become ‘middle class tanks’, as Perry quipped himself.
both remainers and leavers admire David Bowie equally
The other piece where Brexit is the main focus is the vases entitled Matching Pair. One vase is ‘Remain’ and the other ‘Leave’, but the thing that is most striking about the pair is how similar they seem, even on closer inspection. Grayson’s inspiration here came from questions he asked the public through his blog. He asked the same questions to both remainers and leavers, starting from the very simple, ‘what is your favourite colour?’, to which the majority response of both sides was the same – blue – to the more political: ‘what does being British mean to you?’; ‘who do you look up to?’.
Here the answers tended to diverge more, although he discovered that both remainers and leavers admire David Bowie equally. He then took the images of the answers and applied them to the vases in a palimpsestic design. The figures appear somewhat ghost-like and the icons behind, only just visible, as you can see in the image of the Remain vase, the NHS logo looms over the shoulder of the man in the Dismaland t-shirt.
contemporary masculinity involves not making iron but pumping it
There are, of course, many more pieces on this floor which Grayson gives a snappy but informative run down of; they largely are focused on modern Britain and politics. Downstairs is conversely more focused on masculinity, a topic which Grayson is renowned for his opinions on.
One of the downstairs pieces which he briefly speaks about is called Death of a Working Hero. It is a tapestry that serves as a sort of memorial to the death of a certain type of masculinity, a masculinity that was particularly found in the North East amongst miners and industrial workers.
Perry made it clear that he does not mourn the loss of ‘traditional’ masculinity, which discouraged men from being emotional and praised the rational, provider, protector archetype. With great charm and wit, Perry quips that though these roles have changed, contemporary masculinity involves not making iron but pumping it.
Overall, the exhibition was, without-a-doubt, incomparable. Not only does Perry succeed in conveying powerful political statements, the aesthetic of every piece is eye-catching and unique, and showcases his extensive artistic skills. In short, The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! is well worth a visit.
— Arnolfini (@ArnolfiniArts) September 29, 2017
The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! is being displayed at the Arnolfini until December, and as ever is totally free to attend.
What do you think of Perry’s exhibition? Let us know in the comments below or on social media