Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman

Proclaiming he is not a historian, but an artist, Grayson Perry asks us not to look for meaning in his newest exhibition held at the British Museum. But as Grayson lets us into his wonderfully imaginative world, it is hard not to see the meaning behind both his own work, and the pieces that he has selected to show from the British Museums archives.

His first piece of pottery on display as visitors enter the exhibition is designed to perhaps ask us to question why we, and others are here. Through speech bubbles, figures inform us why they have come. One tells us he had a free ticket, one that there was ‘such a buzz about it on twitter’, while another tells us that he ‘came to be outraged’. All viable possibilities. Yet despite this initial cheeky and somewhat satirical piece, the rest of the exhibition is an enjoyable and insightful journey around the mind of Grayson, complete with Alan Measles, his childhood bear. The star of the exhibition features one way or another in almost all of Grayson’s pieces. Referring to Alan in a caption within the exhibition, Grayson tells us “He was the embodiment of my male rebelliousness and leadership qualities that I suppressed in childhood.”
The exhibition touches on religion, culture, sexuality and gender, and even magic and scary figures, all topics which are strong themes behind the creation of many of the objects Grayson had chosen to display from the British museum.

The Rosetta Vase, Grayson Perry, 2011, glazed ceramic © Grayson Perry, courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro Gallery, London. Photo: Stephen White

Through using ancient artefacts from the British Museum and his own contemporary corresponding pieces of art, Grayson very much compares history and all its traditions and beliefs, to modern popular culture. We are pushed to realise that we are not so different today as we were thousands of years ago. He reminds us through ancient carvings and sculptures that sexual imagery has always been present. Ancient souvenirs of pilgrimage are compared to souvenirs we bring back from holidays. He compares religious beliefs such as the last judgement to modern day CCTV cameras to dispel misbehaviour.
Through his cleverly put together exhibition, Grayson reminds us that “Everything in the British museum was contemporary once”, and through his eyes we are able to see the wonderful pieces of craftsmanship and art displayed in the British Museum in a deeper perspective, creating links from the anonymous people of the past to the modern day.

Pilgrimage to the British Museum, Grayson Perry, 2011, ink and graphite © Grayson Perry, courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro Gallery, London.

He tells us, “The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman could be another name for the British Museum”. The exhibition, sponsored by Alix Partners and Louis Vuitton, runs until 19th February 2012.

Ali Roff

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