Grayson Perry: 'The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!' at Arnolfini - Bristol
On the same day as Britain's most recent general election, Turner prize-winning artist, Grayson Perry, presented a body of work at the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens, London. Known for his sharp-witted commentary on contemporary society, Perry's latest solo show; 'The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!' highlights his abiding interest in capturing the mindset of the people in the aftermath of the EU referendum. His subject matter engages with issues around masculinity, politics, popularity, class and religion, and is also drawn from his own childhood and life as a transvestite. After a summer spent at the Serpentine Gallery, Perry's free exhibition is now showing for the first time outside of London at Arnolfini in Bristol. The show opened on the 27th September, and runs through until Christmas Eve.
Arnolfini is an international arts centre and gallery located in Bristol harbour. 'The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!' presents over 25 of the artist's most recent works which have been created from a variety of traditional media, including; cast iron, bronze, printmaking, ceramics, woodcuts and tapestry. Filling the entire gallery with vibrant, bold and playful colours, the artworks appears to be as flamboyant and characterful as their maker.
Take this custom-built motorcycle which the artist toured in Bavaria for BBC Radio 4 in 2010. It stands defiantly in the foreground of a vast mountainous scene that dominates an entire gallery wall behind it! I mean, how could you miss this? This eye-catching motorbike is baby pink and pastel blue, adorned in floral designs and perched on the back is a shrine to the artist's teddy bear; Alan Measles. A machine that is synonymous with power and masculinity has been replaced with childish kitsch.
Located close by is Animal Spirit, a large-scale print which was made using traditional Renaissance woodblock techniques. Once more, we can observe Perry exploring the notions of masculinity. Animal Spirit "is a symbolic representation of the irrational beast that controls the [financial] markets - it is half bull and half bear." As Perry sees it "the masculinity you see in the city is cloaked long ago under gentlemanliness and rationality and good business practice." So as we look on at this monstrous beast, albeit squeamishly, it graphically reveals its organs that have been emblazoned with words such as rational, prudent and sensible. I wasn't sure what to make of this piece (or where to look!), so let's move swiftly on shall we!
On the ground floor, you will also find a limited edition 'Kateboard' published by The Skateroom. The artist was a keen skateboarder in his youth, and when asked by The Skateroom to design a skateboard, Perry states that he was "very aware of the social context of any image [he] were to place on one." This gilded skateboard portrays a popular icon, The Duchess of Cambridge, in the form of a monumental church brass. Make of it what you will!...
Let's head upstairs...
Here, Perry turns the topic of conversation from masculinity to politics and popularity. As an example, scenes of contemporary life and world famous figures are woven into this pot below. A peculiar story unfolds which features the artist's alter ego, Claire, and his teddy bear, Alan Measles. You'll spot Alan Measles wearing an astronauts suit and Claire adorned as a 1960's astronaut's wife! 'President Trump kisses Alan's hand as Melania Trump, Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen look on." Extraordinary!
Moving on, this large woodcut Reclining Artist is a self-portrait and both an "idealised fantasy and...a messy reality." Perry hopes that this piece will be "popular with educated middle-class people who might enjoy spotting the art-historical references within it."
The current conflicts of our society are woven into this gigantic tapestry, Battle of Britain. Densely polluted skies loom overhead, a vivid rainbow arches over fields whose peace and pleasantness are disturbed on one side by a busy stretch of motorway and a line of 'beaten-in' cramped terraced housing on the other.
As a voyeur looking on at Our Mother, I found it quite heartbreaking seeing her struggle under the weight and burden of carrying "a great load of religious, cultural, domestic and parental baggage." We are told, that this cast iron sculpture is "all of us on our our journey through life. She is a universal pilgrim seeking meaning, but more relevant to this exhibition is that she is also a universal refugee. Immigration was a central and very emotive issue during the EU referendum." A stark and powerful reminder that Perry is voicing his political views through his art.
Then from one large tapestry to another. Red Carpet is in the words of the artist "covered in words and buzz phrases that I felt typified the national discourse in 2016. The background weave is made from photographs of tower blocks." By far my favourite piece in this exhibition, I spent a good ten minutes absorbing all the links between phrases which I found alarming and amusing in equal measure!
The last piece I captured in the exhibition was this Marriage Shrine, which is shown alongside Couple Visiting Marriage Shrine, 2017 - a photograph of the real Mr and Mrs Perry.
The title of Grayson Perry’s free exhibition, to my mind, invites scepticism, intrigue and critique. It leaves you to decide, is this really the most popular art exhibition ever? Well, you can be the judge of that!
I'd definitely recommend a visit, I thought it was absolutely awesome and well worth the trip! For more details, please visit the Arnolfini website.