Tomb of the Unkown Craftsman
As you walk up the steps towards the entrance of Grayson Perry’s exhibition at the British museum (and I trip up them) you catch a glimpse of bright pink and light blue. Turning the soft curve of the staircase the epicenter of the luminous glow is revealed. A beautifully, if garishly crafted motorbike come ‘Pope Mobile’ with a penis shaped seat reading “Chastity” stands proud and steadfast in it’s own appearance. It is not there to be mused upon, in Perry’s own words “we are not to be ironized”; it is there to be enjoyed, as you soon find is the rest of the exhibition.
The bike/pope mobile is now a “shrine” but was recently a carriage for Perry and his personal God (50 year old teddy bear Alan Measels) on their peacemaking pilgrimage around Germany.
Upon entering the actual tomb artists, historians and mere mortals like myself are welcomed with Perry’s words of advice:
“Do not look too hard for meaning here, I am not a historian, I am an artist. That is all you need to know.”
What a relief.
If you have any interest in the world we live in whatsoever, I would defy you not to enjoy this exhibition. Perry’s works of art (including 25 new pieces for this exhibition) are scattered amongst a selection of the 8,000000, that’s right, 8 million artefacts that The British Museum is unable to display. All of them (bar two plates and Perry’s own work) are made by unknown craftsmen. This exhibition, if you hadn’t already guessed, is an homage to them.
There has been talk of “How sensational it is to have a contemporary artist curate an exhibition at the British Museum” and it really is, but as Perry point’s out “Everything in the British Museum was contemporary at one point in time.”
Perry reminds us that fundamentally humans haven’t changed that much over the thousands of years on display in the tomb, from the fashionable Samoan bonnet made of tortoise shell to the satirical Russian etching of the devil farting money over the greedy. It’s a wonderful insight in to humanity over hundreds of thousands of years and some of Perry’s works (especially the Rosetta Vase) epitomize our society today so aptly that I wouldn’t be surprised if in thousands of years to come humans/robots/alien lizards are viewing them as a memorial to society today, almost as a shrine, which is what Perry openly admits to wanting.
I am reluctant to white-wash this article with my interpretations of this exhibition as I believe that is entirely up to the artist, and I’ve already heard enough people exalting there’s but I will give my opinion. It is fascinating, depressing, accurate, hilarious, sage, modest and in my opinion, utterly brilliant.
As you may have deduced, my only qualms with the exhibition were as usual, other people. Who feel the need to tell each other their interpretations of each of Perry’s pieces loudly and somehow manage to teleport two steps behind you while being one in front. There is no escape from the misguided, just try to zone them out.
One of Perry’s most apt statements was in regards to God today “It’s hard for it to establish itself without a web presence.” As you leave the exhibition you are bombarded with all the different ways of following it on the web. Which to my surprise, I didn’t have a problem with as an exhibition of this caliber should be seen by as many as possible; and in a way it only reinforced his point with that funny old thing we call irony.
I strongly recommend making a little pilgrimage of your own to this. It is likely we will never see these pieces together again as they head back to their itemized drawers in the private tombs of The British Museum and Perry’s pieces continue their journey through time.