The Serpentine Gallery in leafy Kensington Gardens, located in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, a borough which highlights many of the contrasts in British society and which, against all odds, elected a Labour Member of Parliament in the recent General Election, is the appropriate location for Grayson Perry’s exhibition over the summer, “The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever”
Grayson Perry – our 21st century equivalent of satirical artists such as William Hogarth – has done it again. With a variety of work – ceramic pots, tapestries, bicycles, shrines and sculptures created in a variety of materials -, he shows his versatility as an artist, in addition to his satirical side from the central tapestry “Battle of Britain” his ceramics overflowing with images of 21st century Britain including politicians from Winston Churchill and Nigel Farage to Boris Johnson, Teresa May and Jeremy Corbin, symbols of Britishness including Marmite, Big Ben and David Bowie, even his own childhood teddy bear Alan Measles being worshipped by both Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn as a symbol of an innocent and long-lost world, and of Perry himself.
In the central space of the gallery, the large tapestry “Battle of Britain” reflects Perry’s view of a divided country, with a railway line cutting through the community and leading to a large rainbow with its potential pot of gold, while the green landscape scarred by electric pylons on one side and wind turbines on the other, as lorries queue along the motorway under which the homeless sleep while children innocently cycle past.
Another tapestry “Red Carpet” shows a map of Britain with London as the central powerhouse from which everything radiates, with phrases from today’s headlines including Old Labour, Free wifi, Affordable homes, Right to Buy, Good schools, Zero-hours contracts, E-bay, and Art installation, with the “The North” staring at Watford.
Perry picked his title “The most popular art Exhibition Ever” carefully. As he wrote:
“Immediately after I won the Turner prize (in 2003), a journalist asked me whether I was a serious artist or just a lovable character. My response was to say: “I’m both.” I don’t see them as mutually exclusive. Art can be intellectually stretching, significant, moving and fun at the same time.”
“Art heavyweights sometimes forget they are part of the leisure industry. People, on the whole, come to art exhibitions on their day off. They do not want to feel that they are just doing their homework. Maybe it is time to take the sting out of the word popular”
“When I came up with this title The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!, I liked it because it chimed with one of my ongoing ambitions: to widen the audience for art without dumbing it down. Mainly I liked it because it made me giggle, but popularity is a serious business. Ask any politician.”
To select the images for his Brexit pots, Perry asked both Leave and Remain voters in the 2016 Referendum which famous people reflected their values. David Bowie appeared in both lists. Perhaps Perry and Bowie are the people to unite Britain and make us great again, something politicians on both sides of the Atlantic seem unable to do.