‘The Leave one is slightly bigger, say four percent’ says Grayson Perry of his amphora like pot which is decorated with supporters of the campaign to leave the EU and the ephemera that they hold dear. There is, naturally, a pot facing this one which depicts the Remain camp. Both are, of course, of similar size and their compositions bear a strong resemblance. When they were released to the public, via a programme on Channel 4, much was made of this symbolism. It still seems to be a bit of a cheap shot by the artist.
Yes, the pots are similar, perhaps in the same way that those two mushrooms you foraged look very similar but you know one is harmless and the other one… Well, I’m not making a political point, nor an artistic. I really liked them, they have a beautiful classical shape and from a distance they are ornate, even reserved. The shock comes when you inspect them up close and they are rude, brash and funny. Classic Grayson – as I very rarely say. These pots formed one room of the exhibition at the Serpentine which he had modestly or provocatively titled The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! I wished that I liked it a bit more.
It is here that I say how much I like Grayson Perry. As an A-Level art student I made a series of 4 large pots which were largely inspired by his work. They where classically shaped and decorated and I tried to get some of his irreverence into my compositions. Conveniently for my critics they were all (apart from a tester pot) cruelly taken by a cold frost and I only have a couple of remaining fragments. I thought he was cool and different, incredibly skilled and a caustic observer. I took this into the exhibition and found a lot of what I have always enjoyed. Apart from the Remain and Leave pots there were others which entertainingly send up city bankers, caricature some of the current ruling elites and touch on British identities. As a start, they were satisfying pots to look at, ornately decorated and the figurative painting was beautifully done. There were just too few of them and I didn’t sense a strong link between any of them and a purpose of the exhibition.
Now to the rest of the exhibition. I enjoyed his tapestries, particularly the ‘Battle of Britain’ which occupied the wall as you entered. It drew clever tropes from Paul Nash’s painting of the same name and I liked the change of viewpoint, the new twist in the meaning of the title and, uncharacteristically for me, the gloominess of it. I don’t quite know what to say about the rest of the exhibition. There was a massive motorbike in one corner, strange statues and boxes with things in them – honestly I can’t recall that well because they were so unmemorable. I am not sure the exhibition space helped, it was a bit dingy and the lighting, particularly on some of the pots was poor. I just got a sense that things were rather plonked about and that it lacked a glue that held it together. It appears that Grayson Perry, with his increasing public and popular profile (I think I saw him on 8 out of 10 cats) has lost that, slightly bitter, outsider status which his work needs. There wasn’t anything remotely surprising or provocative enough to justify the rather silly title.
The best exhibition ever? No. I would probably still recommend to friends, after all it is free, isn’t that big and I did like a lot of it but I certainly expected more. Perhaps it’s time for Grayson Perry to take aim at some more personal, less popular subjects. That way he can recover the focus and bite that drew me to his work originally.
The Battle of Britains
And a few more of his pots – Including the tester pot from my A-Level piece. See if you can spot it…
Ps. The exhibition has now closed so no need to decide if you’d like to go