Grayson Perry: The Vanity of Small Differences
Having watched TV three-parter on English class and taste by Grayson Perry, we went to the Victoria Miro gallery in North London to see the resulting six large tapestries which he designed and had made from his time hanging out with plebs, middlers and nobs respectively. He had shown himself to be affable, sharply observant, humbly questioning and never patronising – also having fun into the bargain, either as himself or in his female guise.
The tapestries are each loosely based on a famous classic painting, such as Masaccio’s Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, but the series echoes William Hogarth’s “A Rake’s Progress”, but charting social mobility and the strong influence of class on our aesthetic tastes. I am always charmed and impressed by Perry’s openness and directness, which makes his work something we can all own, complete with the thought processes behind it. He has a winning combination of imagination and incisiveness, which draws me in with eye-catchiness and detail, but keeps me interested with the breadth and connectedness of thought. As for these tapestries in particular, they are a garish riot of colour, some have greater impact, some have more delicious detail. I think they can’t fail to pique some interest and amused/embarrassed recognition as they are all about us. The particulars of peoples’ cultural lives are seen against a background of economic decline, neurosis of desired security in unstable times, or the burden of inherited responsibility. The punchline seems to be the inevitability of death, as the nouveau riche comes a cropper in his sports car. The subject matter and the cartoonesque rendering also puts me in mind of Posy Simmonds, who has been mining this sort of thing for many years now, especially from the middle class point of view.
David Claerbout: The time that remains
Next door to the Victoria Miro gallery is the Parasol Unit, in fact you can easily go from one to the other without realising it. The woman at the Parasol Unit reception was being quizzed about the Grayson Perry and denied all knowledge of it. A series of minimal, subtle or subdued photo/video works by Belgian David Claerbout were on offer in a series of viewing areas. When I got over the “can I be bothered with this” stumbling block, I started warming to “The Quiet Shore”, simply a series of large projecting photographs of people at a Brittany beach, and a video loop of a girl looking curiously round every time a new gallery visitor triggered it off. I remained neutral through another couple of video pieces, but was finally properly transfixed by “The Algiers’ Sections of a Happy Moment”. This was a projecting sequence of large photos, showing a group of young Algerians pausing during their game of soccer when a player feeds some seagulls. Set to very low key music that may have been Arabic, the images show many aspects of the happy moment, the faces of the guys, shots of surrounding casbah, seagulls like a visitation of angels, close ups of the birds in flight. The combination of viewing and hypnotic music lulled me in to a state of acceptance and in the artist’s words “relaxed my suspicious gaze”. The art work, the light in the gallery space, the combination of tenderness and grittiness, the quiet due to having the place virtually to myself, and being on edge of seat due to a delayed decision to find lunch, all added up to a personally special moment. As a postlude to the perfect experience, I spoilt it/added to it by finding out in his book that a lot of the seagull shots were taken in Europe, so there was a level of falsity built in.
Sarah Sze: Conceptual constellations of everyday objects
Back to the first gallery to spend longer with some sprawling fragile constructions and collections of assorted stuff by Sarah Sze. They looked like a simultaneous but unscientific investigation into everything, somewhere between esoterically organised car boot sales, and daintily pointless accumulations of whim-made-sculpture using anything to hand. My first impression had been “messy indulgence”, then I got a sort of connection to various activities in my childhood – collecting junk/playing in a conceived personal space/building a world/having important but meaningless secrets – quite intangible but emotionally strong aspects of imaginative self. Whether any of this has really got anything to do with Sarah’s work, I enjoyed finding those resonances. Next to find out more about what she’s up to. There’s humour and beauty in the ludicrous flimsiness of long bent twigs, taut strings and stuck on paper. There’s enigma in the esoteric construction and purposeful selections of material. They are everything-sculptures, and because of the casual scattered nature of some pieces, I have a desire to add some more bits and bobs to the peripheries and carry them on like some sort of a relay artist. I like what they do, I don’t know what they mean. I don’t mind. Browse her world in her previous exhibitions on Sarahsze.com
*I’ve seen three curations by Grayson Perry: The Charms of Lincolnshire in 2006 (haunting and inspired), Unpopular Culture at De La Warr in 2008 (enjoyably reactionary but slightly undernourishing), and the recent Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman (alternately impressive and cute). Wish I’d written about them at the time, but it’s probably too late now.