Love him of loathe him, the artist Grayson Perry can rarely be ignored and his new exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery suggests that nimble teasing of his audience continues to delight him.
The exhibition, Grayson Perry’s The Vanity of Small Differences, is well worth the visit if only in order to ponder the question: can a craftsman be an artist?
The critically-acclaimed work is a series of six vibrant tapestries (each measuring 4m x 2m) created by the artist to tell the story of class mobility and explore the influence social class has on our aesthetic taste.
Inspired by William Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress, the work charts the “class journey” made by young Tim Rakewell and includes many of the characters, incidents and objects Grayson Perry encountered on journeys through Sunderland, Tunbridge Wells and The Cotswolds for the television series ‘All in the Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry’.
The television programmes were first aired on Channel 4 in June 2012 and won a BAFTA this year in the Specialist Factual category. In the series Perry goes “on a safari amongst the taste tribes of Britain”, to gather inspiration for his artwork, literally weaving the characters he meets into a narrative, with an attention to the minutiae of contemporary taste every bit as acute as that in Hogarth’s 18th century paintings.
Grayson Perry has said of the work: “The tapestries tell the story of class mobility, for I think nothing has as strong an influence on our ct-graysonperryaesthetic taste as the social class in which we grow up. I am interested in the politics of consumerism and the history of popular design but for this project I focus on the emotional investment we make in the things we choose to live with, wear, eat, read or drive. Class and taste run deep in our character – we care. This emotional charge is what draws me to a subject”.
The tapestries themselves are hugely impressive, but one leaves a Perry exhibition once again with the feeling that we are looking an outstanding craftsman rather than an artist at work. Such definitions are of importance.
The exhibition coincides with the artist delivering the prestigious Reith Lectures (the first was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday 15 October and a further three lectures will be broadcast through October and November).
Manchester Art Gallery is only the second gallery outside London to be showing Grayson Perry’s The Vanity of Small Differences. The display in Manchester provides the chance to see the tapestries alongside a full set of Hogarth’s earliest prints for A Rake’s Progress, on loan from the Whitworth Art Gallery.
The exhibition runs until February 2nd.