Sometimes it’s harder to write about work that you love; with each word you want to convey how brilliant it is to do it justice. I felt this seeing Grayson Perry’s latest exhibition The Vanity of Small Differences, newly opened at the Victoria Miro. It’s everything we’ve come to expect from the flamboyant artist – a visual feast of whimsy, colour, and provocation.
Given Grayson Perry’s largely narrative art, it follows that he is an entertaining storyteller. I was lucky enough to experience this first-hand as he walked us through the exhibition– in a wonderful wide-skirted lilac dress – and recounted the motivations for his latest work; an exploration into taste and all the nuances surrounding it. As he posits, taste has become an indicator for the social class someone belongs to and is shaped in large-part by our environment.
Presented as a series of six bold tapestries, The Vanity of Small Differences tells the story of Perry’s protagonist Tim Rakewell (a reference to William Hogarth’s A Rake Progress). Documenting the protagonist Rakewell’s social mobility and ultimate demise, it’s a modern day allegorical tale of consumerism, politics, drive, greed, technology and the varying shades of British culture.
Measuring two x four metres, the story-board tapestries are even more impressive when viewed up close. Wildly detailed scenes, bursting with colour and personality, they capture characters and places that Grayson Perry visited as part of All in the Best Possible Taste, his three-part programme tie-in for Channel 4.
Perry is undeniably bright, and beguiled us with stories: the cultural fetishism; the bling; the rituals and traditions in different social groups he discovered during his research. In general, he feels people’s taste boiled down to a choice between “sensory pleasure vs aesthetic restraint”.
We tend to associate traditional tapestries with a certain aesthetic restraint in portraying key moments in history, religion, grandeur and myth. It’s surprising to view contemporary depictions of British culture in this art form instead. In Expulsion from Number 8 Eden Close, Jamie Oliver – Mr Social Mobility – is pictured like a god surveilling the scene from the sky. The religious references across all the pieces seem to hint at a very different sort of modern day religion.
Their production also signifies technological developments and challenges our perceptions of the craft. Perry intricately draws the designs on the computer and then sends them off to be digitally weaved. The translation from screen to textile works well, and despite their scale, they can made far quicker than Grayson Perry’s signature ceramics (a salute to the digital age).
Several of his embellished pots are also exhibited in the fantastic top-floor gallery space, rounding off the exhibition perfectly. All in all, this is a captivating show that is not only visually brilliant but explores very interesting themes and offers insights into different worlds.