Grayson Perry has been revealed as the winner of the Erasmus Prize 2020, which this year is themed “the power of the image in the digital era”. The award is given annually to an individual who has made a major contribution to the arts, humanities or sciences, and has previously been awarded to the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Henry Moore, as well as writers A.S. Byatt and Barbara Ehrenreich, architect Renzo Piano and designer Jean Prouvé. In 2015 it was awarded to Wikipedia. Perry was chosen for the prestigious award, which carries €150,000 prize money, for the democratic nature of his artwork.
“At a time when we are constantly bombarded with images, Perry has developed a unique visual language, demonstrating that art belongs to everybody and should not be an elitist affair,” says a statement from the Praemium Erasmianum Foundation. “Perry receives the prize for the insightful way he tackles questions of beauty and craftsmanship while addressing wider social and cultural issues.”
“In both challenging and charming the public, he often provokes humorous clashes between old and new, between acceptable and shocking,” the statement continues. “Perry calls himself ‘a tranny potter’ and explores a climate in which people fear difference and retreat to the safe confines of their own group.”
Perry spoke at a press conference when the announcement was made, stating: “I’m overwhelmed and honoured and humbled when I see the previous roster of winners – the great and the good of the world of culture. It feels like validation of something that has crept up on me over the years, which is that my career is making difficult ideas accessible, and making the highbrow world that I operate in intelligible for the guy on the sofa.”
The foundation cited his broad practice as a testament to his ability to reach the public in myriad ways, from his woodcuts, tapestries and sculptures to dresses, documentaries and books, plus A House for Essex. It also picked out his crowdsourced Brexit project, in which he invited British people to submit images of beloved objects and subjects. The similarity between the submissions from the Remain and Leave camps inspired two vases entitled Matching Pair, a project that the foundation says “illustrates Perry’s ability to unite a divided public, showing us that art can be a platform for an open and inclusive debate”.
To mark the presentation of the prize, the foundation is organising a programme of events related to Grayson Perry and the theme. The King of the Netherlands will present the award in autumn 2020. Perry concluded: “I have a real place in my heart for Holland because that was where I had my first big, major show in the Stedelijk Museum in 2002, which led to me being nominated for the Turner Prize... all in all this is a perfect moment for me.”
GalleryGrayson Perry: Matching Pair (2017)
Photo by Chris McAndrew