Grayson Perry: The MOST Specialest Relationship

    15 September–31 October 2020
    The exhibition is available to view by free timed ticket

    ‘If I think of American cultural power, the image that pops into my head is a huge Abstract Expressionist painting, a Cold War symbol of a self-confident land of the free.’ — Grayson Perry

    Inspired by his three-part documentary Grayson Perry’s Big American Roadtrip, broadcast on Channel 4 in September, in which the artist travels across the US on a custom-built motorbike he designed especially for the journey, these new works explore some of the biggest cultural and political fault-lines in the country. Works respond to the programme’s themes and conversations as Perry spent time with different communities, from African-American businesspeople in Atlanta to farmers in Wisconsin, to understand how Americans today view issues of identity, race, money and class – and what might be done to overcome the divisions in their country (and in our own).

    The exhibition is available to view by free timed ticket. Book your visit here.  It is also available to view via the App Store on Vortic Collect.

    Grayson Perry’s Big American Road Trip begins on Channel 4 on 23 September.


    Very Large Very Expensive Abstract Painting, 2020

    Tapestry
    292 x 688 cm
    115 x 270 7/8 in

    Grayson Perry, Very Large Very Expensive Abstract Painting, 2020

    ‘This tapestry is made up of layers that reflect some of the cultural and social archaeology of Manhattan.’— Grayson Perry

    ‘If I think of American cultural power, the image that pops into my head is a huge Abstract Expressionist painting, a Cold War symbol of a self-confident land of the free. In those days New York was the white hot centre of the art world, now it is a hideously expensive liberal enclave. This tapestry is made up of layers that reflect some of the cultural and social archaeology of Manhattan. The deepest layer is made up of historic textiles from the many cultures that make up the modern city, American, African, Asian and European. A virtual patchwork of quilts, rugs, blankets, flags and sacks. On top of this is splurged a Jackson Pollock style abstract painting – a freewheeling gesture of macho cultural dominance. The outline map of Manhattan is on its side to fit in the landscape sweep of the Ab-Ex painting but also to ram home how phallic it appears, the subway map forming its pulsing veins and arteries. The final layer is a series of pasted collage labels that between them lay out the economic, social and cultural forces that maintain the glass floor under the affluent liberal elite.’

    Installation view

    5

    Glazed ceramic
    57 x 51 x 51 cm
    22 1/2 x 20 1/8 x 20 1/8 in

    Grayson Perry, The Sacred Beliefs of The Liberal Elite, 2020

    Glazed ceramic
    45 x 43 x 43 cm
    17 3/4 x 16 7/8 x 16 7/8 in

    Grayson Perry, American Journey, 2020

    American Journey is a roadmap of American cultural icons I enjoy and I could list off the top of my head. They run from hyperstars to forgotten heroes.’— Grayson Perry

    ‘I adore American culture and I love going on road trips through this vast land, preferably on a motorcycle. American Journey is a roadmap of American cultural icons I enjoy and I could list off the top of my head. They run from hyperstars like Elvis and Walt Disney to forgotten heroes like Cliff Vaughs and Ben Hardy who built the motorcycles ridden by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider. When I was filming my US TV documentary series one of my favourite encounters was with a Manhattan colour consultant and one of her clients. When I referred to them as members of the liberal elite the client said he hated that term. I said, “yeah, now you know how it feels for your group to have a negative label.” The Sacred Beliefs of The Liberal Elite is covered in little phrases that perhaps mock the pieties of his tribe: “Original Ideas are the product of Capitalist Scum!”, “This pot is made using 67% ethically sourced ideas”, “Hipsters Unite against conformity”.’

    Installation view

    2

    Glazed ceramic
    77 x 28 x 28 cm
    30 1/4 x 11 1/8 x 11 1/8 in

    Grayson Perry, Pale Virtue, 2020

    Glazed ceramic and gold
    42 x 28.4 x 28.4 cm
    16 1/2 x 11 1/8 x 11 1/8 in

    Grayson Perry, Japanese, Korean and Persian Influences, 2020

    Glazed ceramic
    66 x 28 x 28 cm
    26 x 11 1/8 x 11 1/8 in

    Grayson Perry, Warhead, 2020

    ‘The idea of multiple influences combined into one thing perhaps is a metaphor for US society being made up from many immigrant communities.’— Grayson Perry

    ‘Most of us want to be good people, or at least we want to appear to be good to our social media followers. We want others to see we are “doing the right thing”, supporting the right causes, using the right words. Pale Virtue is covered with the lexicon of the politically correct. Japanese, Korean and Persian Influences is based on an Islamic shape, the jade-like colours echo Korean celadon wares and the gold mending is an ancient Japanese technique called Kintsugi. This idea of multiple influences combined into one thing perhaps is a metaphor for US society being made up from many immigrant communities. Warhead is a very literal transcription of an ancient Persian ceramic. What drew me to the original was the network of white cracks that covered the pot, which I have faithfully replicated. The black arched forms on the main body of the work are on closer inspection plans of vessels packed with bodies based on the infamous 1788 diagram of the slave ship Brookes. Swimming up from the depths of the mottled turquoise glaze are the distorted faces of Donald Trump.’

    Installation view


    The American Dream, 2020

    Colour etching
    109.6 x 239.8 cm
    43 1/8 x 94 3/8 in
    Edition of 68

    Grayson Perry, The American Dream, 2020

    ‘The godlike figure at the top is Mark Zuckerburg, CEO of Facebook. I chose him because he is the best known face of social media power.’— Grayson Perry

    ‘This is a map of how the Culture War rages online. I was thinking of Cold War propaganda maps showing the “Communist Threat” in the 1950s. The godlike figure at the top is Mark Zuckerburg, CEO of Facebook. I chose him because he is the best known face of social media power. Social media is mainly financed by advertising so those in charge want users to stay online as long as possible. The algorithms make this happen by encouraging conflict and outrage. The red arrows represent this feeding of negative emotion that keeps people scrolling. All the ships, planes and other combatants are labelled with the issues that swirl around this artificially polarised struggle. In the centre of the map is the presidential plane Airforce One colliding with a Russian bomber labelled “Climate Change”. When I made this print I thought that was the headline issue, but now I might have made the “Racism” helicopter and the “Black Live Matter” jet fighter more prominent. Hurricane “Woke” off the East Coast still seems very topical though.’

    Installation view

    4

    Glazed ceramic
    51.5 x 51.5 x 3.5 cm
    20 1/4 x 20 1/4 x 1 3/8 in

    Grayson Perry, Stable Genius, 2020

    Glazed ceramic
    50.5 x 50.5 x 4 cm
    19 7/8 x 19 7/8 x 1 5/8 in

    Grayson Perry, Crybully and Lolcow, 2020

    Glazed ceramic
    51.5 x 51.5 x 3.5 cm
    20 1/4 x 20 1/4 x 1 3/8 in

    Grayson Perry, Vote Republican, 2020

    Glazed ceramic
    52 x 52 x 3.5 cm
    20 1/2 x 20 1/2 x 1 3/8 in

    Grayson Perry, Vote Republican Again, 2020

    ‘This European style of slipware was something that early settlers reproduced on American soil.’— Grayson Perry

    Stable Genius is based on a seventeenth-century English slipware charger that I saw in a Milwaukee art museum. I adore the simple relaxed drawing on these early ceramics. The original also showed a lion with a ridiculous head of a leader, probably the king. When a reporter asked Donald Trump when he was first elected if he would be fazed by becoming President and boarding Air Force One he said no, “I am a very stable genius.” This European style of slipware was something that early settlers reproduced on American soil. Vote Republican is also based on an early English press moulded slipware plate. A lot of these would have been produced around the time of the English Civil War and often depicted King Charles, sometimes up an oak tree, sometimes on horseback. The civil war raging in the USA at the moment is of course the culture war. On this plate we have Donald Trump on horseback, his hat balanced on his impossible hair surrounded by tweeting birds. Crybully and Lolcow is again based on an early English press moulded plate showing two gents smoking and drinking in a coffee house. Crybully and Lolcow perhaps sound like characters in a Restoration comedy but they are two very modern terms I gleaned from a rather brilliant YouTube channel called ContraPoints. Crybully is an elegant way of putting the psychotherapeutic phenomenon of “persecuting from a victim standpoint” someone who thinks because they have had something unfortunate happen to them it gives them a free pass to be awful to other people. A Lolcow is someone on social media who is unwittingly hilarious and other users will provoke and tease the Lolcow into reacting in an unconsciously stupid, angry and unintentionally funny way: they milk them for laughs, hence Lolcow.’

    Installation view

    4a

    Glazed ceramic
    51 x 51 x 4 cm
    20 1/8 x 20 1/8 x 1 5/8 in

    Grayson Perry, Aspects of My Sexuality and Gender Dressed Up as Colonial Settlers, 2020

    Glazed ceramic
    52 x 52 x 4 cm
    20 1/2 x 20 1/2 x 1 5/8 in

    Grayson Perry, I hate the USA, I love the USA, 2020

    ‘I ride my bike down the middle, between the ditches of rigidity and chaos.’— Grayson Perry

    Aspects of My Sexuality and Gender Dressed Up as Colonial Settlers shows Claire and Alan Measles in the style of early American folk art, togged out in nineteenth-century European clothes arriving in the “New World” to find a piece of land and start a new life. Problematic! In fact there are a lot of problematic elements to this innocent seeming work if you want to look for them. Ever since my first visit to the USA in the 1980s I have been aware that it is a land prone to extremes. Extremes of natural beauty and strip mall crassness, right-wing fanaticism and left-wing dogma, alcoholic or teetotal, religious conservatism or hedonistic abandon, the cutting edge and the deepest traditions, rural isolation and cities that never sleep. The Internet seems to have turbocharged this polarisation. Sanity, I feel, lies in the middle ground. I ride my bike down the middle, between the ditches of rigidity and chaos.’ 


    Grayson Perry

    About the artist

    © Richard Ansett

    Born in Chelmsford, Essex in 1960, Grayson Perry lives and works in London. Winner of the 2003 Turner Prize, he has exhibited in museums worldwide. Major institutional exhibitions in 2020 include The Pre-Therapy Years at The Holburne Museum, Bath, UK (on view until 3 January 2021), the first exhibition to survey works made by the artist between 1982 and 1994. Institutional venues for other recent national and international solo exhibitions include the Monnaie de Paris; Kiasma, Helsinki; The Serpentine Galleries, London; Arnolfini, Bristol; ARoS Aarhus Art Museum, Aarhus; Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney. Perry has also curated several major exhibitions, most recently the critically acclaimed 250th Summer Exhibition at London’s Royal Academy and The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman at the British Museum, London.


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