British visual arts and society

This video from Britain says about itself:

Download the Grayson Perry App from the App Store

18 jul 2013

View Turner Prize and BAFTA-winner Grayson Perry’s six tapestries ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’ up-close. Featuring commentary from the artist, art historical references and a guide to the ‘making of’ the works.

Through the six tapestries, Grayson Perry explores his fascination with taste and the British class system. The artist goes on a safari amongst the taste tribes of Britain, to gather inspiration for his artworks, literally weaving the characters he meets into a narrative, inspired by William Hogarth‘s ‘A Rake’s Progress‘.

The app features:

– Grayson Perry commentary for each of the tapestries.
– Art historical references and illustrations.
– A chance to see the tapestries up close.
– An essay on the making of the works.
– Links to the television series

By Mike Quille in Britain:

The dialectic’s in the detail

Friday 26 July 2013

If you’re on the lookout for art with social class as its major theme then you’re more than likely to be disappointed at the moment.

Just as mainstream politics carefully avoids raising the topic, so the art world often tries to ignore or even erase the importance of class in our lives, even as a class war rages around us.

That makes Grayson Perry‘s latest touring exhibition currently running at Sunderland Museum all the more noteworthy.

It consists of six large tapestries which grew out of Perry’s Channel 4 documentary last year on taste, social mobility and class in modern Britain.

They depict the life of Tim Rakewell, who grows up in a single-parent family in Sunderland among a working-class community being devastated by deindustrialisation.

A computer geek, together with his middle-class girlfriend he moves upward through the classes, becoming a rich entrepreneur and celebrity, appearing with his new second wife in Hello! magazine. Finally he dies in an accident in his new Ferrari in front of a soulless shopping mall.

The Adoration Of The Cage Fighters typifies Perry’s approach. It’s the first tapestry in the sequence, set in Rakewell’s Sunderland home.

As he sits on his mother’s knee, he competes for her attention with her mobile phone. She’s just about to go out on the lash with friends and Perry captures beautifully the hyper-feminine culture of young working-class women today.

In the background, there are the pictures and ornaments from a time when Sunderland had heavy industry. In the foreground, two young heavily tattooed men offer visual symbols of membership of the male working class – a Sunderland football shirt and a miner’s lamp.

Literally woven into the tapestry are snatches of text telling the story of Rakewell’s upbringing in a family broken by the destruction of local heavy industry.

Politically insightful, deeply moral, funny and skilfully executed, it’s a stunning achievement.

The tapestries are based on Hogarth‘s A Rake’s Progress, the classic series of 18th-century paintings satirising upper-class immorality. Their titles – The Agony In The Car Park, The Upper Class At Bay, The Adoration Of The Cage Fighters – also reference traditional religious and historical paintings.

They provide the story of an ordinary person moving upwards socially and possess an epic and ironic quality, as does the choice of the medium of tapestry, with mythological narratives or glorious imperial battle scenes which normally are to be seen in stately homes.

Hogarth spoke of his interest in what he called “modern moral subjects” and Perry has the same concern which he expresses in a more layered, ironic and subtle way.

Crucially, whereas Hogarth spoke from and to the emerging economic elites of the 18th century, Perry speaks from a more egalitarian perspective, from the point of view of the working-class victims of economic “progress.” Whereas Hogarth’s Tom Rakewell degenerates morally as he moves down the social scale, Perry’s Tim Rakewell degenerates as he moves up in society and becomes a rich and powerful Branson-ish entrepreneur.

There’s a mischievous wit and warmth at play here, with delicious irony and playfulness in so many of the little details.

But I’m not sure you’ll come out with a smile on your face. Running in one way or another through most of the art works, and most obviously in the last tapestry Lamentation, there’s a fairly stark and prophetic warning of how divided, commercialised and cold our society is becoming under the influence of market-based economics.

Underneath the punkish wit, the moral message is as serious as the religious and historical art which Perry references. Capitalism is making English society more and more divided and dysfunctional.

Class divisions based on wealth and power generate anxieties, conflicts and delusions of difference, signalled in clothes and lifestyle. And they encourage greed and pride, the peculiarly English cultural phenomenon of the “vanity of small differences,” which is everywhere you look, yet seldom openly linked to the class-based distribution of wealth and power.

These tapestries are a breath of fresh air, a blast of class consciousness against the often puzzling trivialities of the art world and against the even more common dishonesties and deceptions of the political world.

You can access images of these tapestries in books and on the internet but they really have to be seen on exhibition.

That way you’ll see all the detail and be able to enjoy the full impact of this humorous and skilful critique of class-based taste and morals.

They’re a great piece of political art.

The Vanity Of Small Differences runs at Sunderland Museum And Winter Gardens until September 29, details, then tours Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool and Leeds until October 2014.

4 thoughts on “British visual arts and society

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