Grayson Perry Delivers The Full Package In This New Exhibition

Grayson Perry, Serpentine Gallery ★★★★☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 18 months ago

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Grayson Perry Delivers The Full Package In This New Exhibition Grayson Perry, Serpentine Gallery 4
The bull and bear are combined in this critique of bankers. Courtesy the Artist, Paragon Press and Victoria Miro, London, Photography: Stephen White © Grayson Perry

Grayson Perry is a star continuing to rise. His art is getting more attention, he has published a book and now has a couple of television documentary series to his name.

There are plenty of his trademark vases too. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London (photograph Robert Glowacki) © Grayson Perry

His latest exhibition is titled 'The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!', so called because it's his exploration of the notion that popularity can be seen as a bad thing in the often-snooty art world. It's an issue that's dogged the industry for as long as we've been involved, but it would be unfair to limit this fickle nature to art. After all, fashion, food and design trends go from chic to cliche in a matter of months.  

Brexit gets an airing too through a sculpture and accompanying tapestry. Image © 2017 Robert Glowacki

Grayson Perry revels in the divisive nature of his work; one vase is covered with both the praise and criticism his work has received. We're certain some of the comments are fake — very en-vogue with the fake news trend — but we're not so sure about others.

'Makes so called activist artists seem vain and stuck in the mud' seems like something that may be said about his work, though we could easily imagine Perry gleefully make this critique up himself.

The masculinity and violence of a rough housing estate captured in a tapestry. Photography: Stephen White © Grayson Perry

His political relevance is echoed by the fact that this exhibition launches on the day of the General Election. Theresa May makes an appearance, with Donald Trump kneeling to kiss the hand of Perry's alter ego, teddy bear Alan Measles, nearby.

Brexit gets a good airing too, with a tapestry showing a divided Britain —affordable homes in the North, and the liberal elite, hipsters and street art in London.

Grayson Perry goes all out with a personalised motorbike. Image © 2017 Robert Glowacki

Perry's enjoyable television series All Man explored masculinity across Britain, from police officers to bankers and cage fighters. Anyone who watched it may recognise some of the works he made for the show on display here.

One of our favourite works is the tapestry of a rough housing estate. The map includes penises and a lottery ticket, indicating how a life of escalating violence on the estate is a lottery, and that the bravado simply begets more violence.

Working class culture, from miners to cage fighters - another work from his All Man series. Courtesy the artist, Paragon Press and Victoria Miro, London. Photography: Stephen White © Grayson Perry

Unfortunately these works may be difficult to process for those who haven't seen the television series — The Serpentine could have done a lot more to make these works accessible by providing some helpful context.

Thankfully many of the works don't require any homework to digest. Visitors are greeted by a two-headed piggy bank where they can donate through a slot that resonates with them, be it Right, Leave, rural, old or male — the not so subtle irony being that it all ends up in the same place anyway.

Not all the work here hits the spot, but that's always a risk of being an artist trying to tap into the nerves of what makes people tick across the UK today.

Perry delivers his work with a large dose of humour, but he's also one of the most politically relevant artists operating at the moment. The fact that he happens to be popular too, is simply proof that his art is effective... but we're part of the liberal elite, and we would say that, wouldn't we?

Grayson Perry: The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! is on at Serpentine Gallery from 8 June - 10 September 2017. Entrance is free.

Last Updated 07 June 2017