Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Grayson Perry, British Museum

The Tomb Of The Unknown Craftsman is an exhibition not only curated by Turner Prizewinning artist Grayson Perry, but one for which he contributes about a third of the material content. The fascinating thing about the exhibition is that it is, at first sight, rather tricky to work out exactly which pieces are his work and which are those he has selected from the vaults of the museum. For sure, there are some whacky pieces here, and none more so that the three riding helmets at the opening. One is clearly that which Grayson wore for his Germanic bike tour (a trip around southern Germany on a custom made motorcycle, 'Humility', exhibited at the entrance of the exhibition). But the remaining two are more difficult to place, one a curmudgeonly assembled, rusting helmet, the other a flamboyant skin-n-fur cap of north Asian design. On closer inspection, the medieval-looking helmet is in fact another of Perry works, created for a degree show and then abandoned in the garden. The point is that the pieces are interchangeable, not only between artists - the craftsmen of the exhibitions title - but through a wide parenthesis of periods; possibly dated by content and material but not by the work of the artisan.

The exhibition offers pots (Perry's staple), souvenirs and trinkets of devotion (Perry's own incorporates the figure of his omnipresent teddy Alan Measles), maps (Perry's contribution turns Tracey Emin's infamous quilts inside out with a tapestry that is not a receptacle of a stream of consciousness but a guide for probing the same) and statues and boats that commemorate the efforts of the pilgrim. For beside the craftsman on display is Perry's acknowledgement of those - including other artisans - that come to secular temples such as the British Museum to view, absorb and re-create this work.

Above all Perry's work and the items that he has chosen to figure are vibrant - often startling - but made with great care and without any sense of irony that might scuttle the project. It's a warm, even joyful exhibition.

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