Cross-dressing potter Grayson Perry has taken over part of the British Museum for his new exhibition, The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman. When I was invited along to a private view, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Perry introduced the show, saying that it was “a lifetime’s ambition, a chance to find myself in the museum”, adding “I hope people see the museum through my eyes”.
The exhibition features new work by Perry, including a magnificent tapestry; a customised motorbike complete with teddy bear, described by Perry as “a harsh ride” due to its lack of suspension; and a vase representing the different reasons people visit the British Museum (“I wandered in” and “I came to be outraged”).
Interspersed between Perry’s works are objects from the British Museum collection specially selected by the artist, from ancient badges collected by pilgrims, to a phallic statue that was believed to bring good luck.
At the centre of the exhibition is a splendid coffin ship, a memorial to all the unnamed craftsmen that have created objects housed in the British Museum.
“It’s Grayson’s appropriation of the whole of the museum to frame his creative work,” explained British Museum director Neil MacGregor. “It’s something nobody has done before.”
Speaking to a crowd of trendy Frieze Art Fair patrons, Perry seemed far more excited by the prospect of school kids enjoying the show than he was about the opinions of art critics and dealers. “I’ve heard that the average age of visitors is 12,” he said with glee.
This down-to-earth attitude has made Perry popular among the museum’s staff. According to MacGregor, “no curator in the museum has won more affection than Grayson”.
So that’s two reasons why you should visit the exhibition: it’s a fascinating show created by a thoroughly nice chap.
Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman is at the British Museum until 19 February 2012