Saturday, 18 February 2012

Grayson Perry ... and... Spring is on the Way!

Due to the business of life recently I haven't been able to attend as many exhibitions as I've wanted to. But friends and family have been droning on about how wonderful the Grayson Perry show  "The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman" at the British Museum was. I hadn't been that keen to go but when my sister in law actually said she would queue for hours to see it a second time, we finally decided it might be worth a look.

T rang the museum up only to discuver that all advance tickets are now sold. You have to go along at 9 AM on the day as they keep a few tickets by.  So we got on the bikes and cycled along, to find the cleaners were just finishing at the museum.

I felt that dustpan and brush won't go very far in the large expanses of floor.

With an hour to fill before the rest of the museum opened, we wandered off to look for some breakfast so we wandered off in to Covent Garden.  Looked in a few shops in the way, like this one, selling vintage fashion design.  To me, this mannequin looked as if she'd been sitting in the fashion mannequins' cocktail bar just a little bit too long. Her hat seems to be slipping over one eye.

Was tempted by this olive bread and oil on display outside a Middle Eastern restaurant

But in the end I settled for a croissant and orange juice from Pret, which was very nice.

Back at the museum, people were starting to turn up - this woman appeared behind one of the huge columns in the hazy sunshine.

We still had ages to wait as the show is timed-entry.  But there is lots to see in the museum. We visited the room by the front which always focuses on just one amazing object from the museum's collection.    Currently, it's a 17th century model of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Intended as a pilgrim souvenir, it comes to bits so that you can make a virtual pilgrimage through the various parts of the church when you get home.   The church is divided between six different Christian churches - the Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Egyptian Coptic, Armenians and Roman Catholics.

We still had time to spare, so we went to see the Assyrian carvings.  The museum has acquired a large amount of the palace at Nineveh, and there are rooms full of beautiful carved murals, so full of life and interest.  Can you spot the cunieform writing across this image of a god?

Anyway, finally we made it to Grayson Perry.   Here he is

For those of you who do not know Grayson Perry, let it just be said that I had thought he was another of those show-offy artists - and I guess he is. But he's also really interesting, and after seeing his show, I now have real respect for his vision and ideas.

You need to know that he had a terrible childhood and coped with it by becoming a transvestite and creating a fantasy kingdom in his own head, headed by his old teddy bear    I know, it sounds so pretentious. That's why I didn't go to the show when it first opened, after all.

Anyway,  he named his old teddy Alan Measles when he was a child. Alan Measles is now a kind of primitive god or ruler figure in Perry's art. He took Alan Measles around Germany on that stunning pink motor bike you see in the photo.  Here are some photo details of the beautiful bike...

Apparently this teddy is a stand-in for Alan Measles, who is far too precious to be taken on a long motorbike trip to Germany  or anywhere else.

I honestly can't explain the show, specially since I was not supposed to take photos inside (this rule always seems crazy to me).  But I'll just say that Perry took objects from the museum's collection, and linked them with other objects, and his own art work.  He creates many ceramics, but also casts objects out of metal and has produced a huge textile quilt for this show.  He is a beautiful craftsman and to my surprise I found that his work was really thought provoking.

Oh, all right, then, I did sneak a few photos, until I was reproved by a fellow visitor to the show who took me to the door and grimly pointed out the "no photos" notice.

I had to get a shot of this, one of the many extraordinary things he discovered in the museum's vaults. It's an elephant tusk carved in Africa over 100 years ago. It portrays overdressed Westerners in Victorian outfits, and also this woman in a surprisingly modern and triumphant pose.

Frustratingly, there was no further information - my one criticism of the show is that there was not more written about the museum objects themselves. I'd have liked to know what this tusk signified.

Another of the museum's own objects was a 200 year old Kate Greenaway style bonnet made of tortoise shell - clearly intended to be worn, but you wonder what it must have felt like.

And there were some splendid old prints, including a Russian one showing a forge in which old people were turned into new ones. You see them stuffing the old folk in at the top, and nice new young people coming out at the bottom.

Perry's vases tell about his life and thoughts. I snapped this vase explaining why he thinks people will come to the show.  They range from students saying they had to do it as part of their course, to a grumpy man saying "I need to have my negative prejudices confirmed.". This lady below, saw it on Twitter.

We spent about 2 hours at the exhibition, and yes, it really was worth visiting, juxtaposing all kinds of ideas from different cultures, and then turning them around and looking at them from psychological and artistic points of view.  I have never seen an exhibition quite like it, and I can understand why my sister in law wants to queue up and come back.

After we left the exhibition,  I found myself looking at many of the people I saw around the museum.  I often find that going to an exhibition makes me see art everywhere.   I don't know who this man is, for instance, but I think he has a wonderful face. Hope he doesn't mind me posting it here. I don't know who he was.

And. I loved this woman's swinging hair as she skipped through the crowds.

Afterwards, the weather clouded over and became a mixture of sun and shadow, but I had an errand to run, and passing through St. James' Park on my way back late in the afternoon, I saw some snowdrops and realised that Spring is really on its way.  Art may come and go, but nature is always there.


  1. What a nice post! I like the fact that you wanted to take pics of everybody after the exhibition...So funny! I must admit that I had never heard of Grayson Perry. Where the hell have I been?

  2. You've done it once again, Jenny: made me learn something new! I've never heard of Grayson Perry and Alan Measles until now, and I wonder how come is motorbike tour of Germany did not receive more publicity - it sounds just like something my weekly paper would feature.
    Love the shoe in the Covent Garden shop window, and the Assyrian carving!
    And snowdrops... sigh!!! There is a very definite hint of spring in the air over here, too, but it has just been way too cold for too long (-18C at night and -12 during the day) that I'm afraid we will have to wait another week of so for the first flowers to appear.

  3. I will take your word for it that the art exhibit was worth visiting. (It looks too much like one that I could see in this country!) For me, I was quite happy to see St. James Park.
    I am amazed how close that is to Buckingham Palace and the mass hordes that stand outside those gates hardly ever wander over to one of the most beautiful parks in London!

  4. Very fascinating look in the an artist and his works. That motorcycle really is a work of art and I am amazed he actually drove it. Thanks for this great lesson today. Really enjoyable!

    Jenny: I'm sorry but I won't be able to comment as often anymore. I have too much difficulty doing the new word verification. :(

  5. Of course what sticks with me is the fact that you took pictures even when the sign says not too and you knew it.
    Go you rebel girl Go!

  6. Thank you so much for introducing me to the world of Grayson Perry and Alan Measles. Fascinating. I love your image of the columns with the show "poster" on the left and woman on the right. Great shot!

  7. Fabulous, totally enjoyed riding along to learn about Grayson Perry , the museum and interesting people. The breath of snowdrops gave me the best cheer . . .

  8. You ended this post with my favorite view! So much packed in one awesome post! I am so happy you made a few corners and got some excellent forbidden shots to share! What an experience (fascinating place too) and retelling of his tragic beginnings that he marvelously turned around for the better of things! Even Miss Mannequin was delightful, although she does have long slender feet too doesn't she! I have to admit (not really knowing a thing about him) but now he has another fan...that motor-bike of his could you imagine meeting on a road?!

  9. Not familiar with the artist but the show looks/sounds interesting. Of course I love looking at the old masters but off beat artists are thought provoking.


  10. I'm not familiar with the work of Grayson Perry but in your photos his work looks very thought- provoking. I intend to research him. Thanks for bringing Perry to my attention. Becoming exposed to new thoughts and ideas is one of the benefits of blogging. Thanks.

  11. Wonderful photos, Jenny!

    Especially enjoyed the first one. The shadows and light are stunning!

    And thank you so much for sharing about Grayson Perry because I had no idea who he was. What an interesting character!

    Have a great weekend, dear lady!

  12. Jill your view on the word verifications the same as mine. When. I get home today I am going to alter my settings so there is no word verification. I hope this doesn't land me with a load of spam but I don't want to inflict this irritating chore on others . Why couldn't Blogger consult with users?

    Kay, I felt very dubious at first too, and the show won't be fir everyone I would guess but glad you liked the snowdrops. Do you know the quaint cottage there too, serms utterly amazing to have it just opposite horse guards parade!!!

    Librarian I sure hope your cold weather improves soon. I was hoping you'd post and say you'd seen him on his bike in Germany...:) Yes hardly unobtrusive. I admit I hadn't heard of the bike trip before either but that's because I dismissed him after hearing the hype about him winning the Turner Prize. It was a surprise to find his work was sincere.

    !MuMuGB you just have time to go assuming you want to but if you don't want to queue I do recommend the Assyrians!

  13. I did want to go to this so I am glad you have and shared something about it as I have failed! I saw the programme about it a while ago. I do find him very interesting. I saw an exhibition of things he had curated along with his own work a few years ago called something like 'The Pride of Lincolnshire'.

  14. Thanks, Jenny, for showing me The British Museum :o)It`s ...just GREAT!

  15. Jenny, I would have love the opportunity to view the exhibit. I had the fortunate opportunity to visit the British Museum many many years ago. It is truly a treasure. Thanks for taking us along with you. Bonnie

  16. What a rich and interesting post!I may not understand everything , but I like people, artists , who have their very own and special world, and a personnal way to see things.I think you were right to go and visit the exhibit! Thank you for sharing!

  17. Wonderful. I learned much and will return to read this post again.

  18. I was curious about the Jenny who left a sweet and kind note on my blog about my great-granddaughter in the hospital. Admiring your shots in the museum, I was wondering how you got by with it because we're not allowed to shoot cameras in such places.
    I will be back.
    blessed weekend to you

  19. Hello Jenny, what a very interesting exhibition it looks. You are so lucky to be in London and to have these things available to you. I must admit to never having heard of Grayson Perry, but my daughter would love Alan Measles. Good for you for going, against your better judgement, sometimes it is the unexpected that really moves you. Love Linda x

  20. What a fascinating day you had, Jenny. I'd love to see that exhibition but you made me feel I was there anyway- thank you.

  21. HI Jenny! What a great tour! I love love love the tusk!

  22. I was also blown away by the exhibition. Perry is a wonderful craftsman but it wasn't just that, for me a lot of the pieces really worked artistically. I'm looking forward to reading his biography. By the way, I think the big hanging was actually a tapestry.

  23. Like Librarian and as usual I've learned something from your post. I'm not sure that that which I've seen of Perry's art is really for me although I'd like to have a closer look at his ceramic work.

    I understand why some current art is protected from photography but when an organisation like the Scottish National Trust has a blanket ban on photography and will not even discuss it I do get rather irritated.

  24. Thanks for the further comments. I do recommend the biography @Roger T, it illuminates GP's strange mind . So glad you liked the tusk, @floweringmamma - I was and still am mystified at why this affirmative figure appeared on the tusk alongside the overdressed Victorians and so wish I knew the history. It is over 100 years old. He had several exhibits of foreign cultures representing White people as seen through culturally different eyes.

    I never knew he did a show in Lincolnshire - would have liked to see it - but apparently he wants or wanted to do
    one In the Met in NY. It would I suppose be completely different because their objects are different.

    Grams, I do so hope your granddaughter is improving and I feel for you.

    I did stop photographing when informed but I do think it's a rule that is a bit out of date in these blogging days at least if galleries want people to blog about their show. But there may be copyright issues so what do I know?
    Museums seem to have different rules - the BM does not generally ban photos as far as I know.

    Incidentally the stuff about the motorbike tour and the bike
    itself were OUTSIDE the exhibition so able to be
    photographed freely.

  25. Hi Jenny, the exhibition sounds fascinating. Remember seeing him on Have I got News For you.
    About this bit: "he had a terrible childhood and coped with it by becoming a transvestite". Is that a statement he made, or from literature at the exhibition?

    That makes it sound like a drug habit, or something negative like that.

    This is not a pseudo-liberal rant, I'm just curious if he really said that.

  26. Delightful collection of thoughts and observations. You've made me miss London ...

    PS: I'd love to know the story about the elephant tusk, too.

  27. Sorry if that sounded intolerant- I have actually met a lot of transvestites through my work in an earlier phase of life and have personally always liked their company -their alternative existence seems to help them in a gentle unaggressive way and seems fine to me. If you detect impatience in my comment it tefers only to the publicity machine which packages people up into sound bites . In his biography GP refers to transvestism being part of the alternative world he created to stop himself falling apart and says it shows he wants to be treated kindly... but of course anything psychological is complex and hard to package - unlike the tabloids. It's not something that can be easily discussed on comment box !

  28. I could spend hours in the BM, especially the Assyrian bit. Good pics.
    Grayson Perry needs help, instead he is used as a hero, very sad.He lives in Chelmsford and can be seen, in his dress with teddy, walking the streets. A good example of why children need proper fathers!

  29. I adore Grayson Perry, both his cross-dressing and his art. He's very original and very skilled. I've seen a lot of his vases and they're amazingly clever, detailed and thought-provoking. I also love his alter ego Claire, which is so playful and amusing. I haven't seen his new exhibition but I'd like to if I can find an excuse to visit London.

  30. Grayson Perry and Alan Measels - two completely new people to me; i would have loved to see this exhibition. the British Museum is one of my favourite places!

  31. The olive bread looks heavenly, but what is that huge thing in the oil? A giant sundried tomato?

  32. I also don't get the "no photo" rule. It makes me not want to go places. Then again, I'm not really a fan of kitsch or folk art. Strangely enough, I used to be but it just all gets a bit much for me in the end.

  33. I love going to museums.

    Never heard of Grayson Perry before but I'm inspired now to google him.

  34. Hey Jenny!
    I just did a post on your book, The Mystery of Lewis Carroll. I hope it makes sense to you, and to anyone else who reads it!

  35. That sounds like quite the exhibit. But I would want to know more about the items, too. I'm not a great fan of vagary. I like to know what the artist was thinking. It doesn't interfere with what I think of it. ;)

  36. Looks like you had a great time before, during, and after the Exhibition, Jenny. What a fulfilling day! People watching is fun. Is he your type?

    Thank you for the very interesting comment on my latest post.


  37. Thanks for clearing that up Jenny.

  38. Hello Jenny, thankyou for your comment on my post about the terracing on Glastonbury tor. Nice to meet you! I enjoyed all your splendid photos.

  39. I'm a little jealous that you can visit such unusual and interesting exhibitions and discover new names. Thank you for this post.

  40. Like others, I, too, have never heard of Grayson Perry. But I do so like quirky artists and their viewpoint of the world. Those snowdrops are wonderful - they do herald spring, don't they!

    Lovely post and pics.

    ps. thank you for dropping the 'new' word verification feature. i can never enter the words correctly on the first try. Very frustrating.

  41. It's good that seeing his works after taking all the trouble changed your perspective on him and his works and influenced a lot even outside the exhibition.I didn't know him but I saw him talking about exhibition and his own works on youtube.
    The way you described lady mannequin made me smile.I love that gay vernal color she wears.

  42. I love the BM,although like you, I was never quite sure what to make of Grayson Perry. He seemed more style than substance, but your post may have convinced me otherwise!

  43. Fabulous post and images. I really covet that hydrangea hat.

  44. Fantastic. I haven't been here in ages and am so glad to see that nothing's changed. :-)

    Grayson Perry. You know, I'd heard of him, somewhere, but didn't know anything. I will be checking into him now...


  45. Jenny, I have nominated you for the versatile blogger award and hope you will accept,although I won't be offended if you don't You can find out more details on my blog.

  46. What a great post, Jenny. (and thank you for visiting me!) Like you I get frustrated at the no photos rule in exhibitons and some National Trust places. Glad you took the tusk - it's fascinating. And, like you, I would have been frustrated at a lack of information.
    The man's face in the blue hard hat is great but I think the silver design on the hat really makes it. A perfect balance to the masculaine face is the slightly feminine silver design. I wonder what exactly it was?

  47. oh wow...this was a getting a glimpse at some of the museum piece...and my tummy is grumbling for some of that olive bread...but learning about grayson was really cool....i dont know that i knew of him prior...will check him out more...

  48. I too get enormously frustrated by the lack of information at exhibitions and I loathe those talking headsets ... might see if we can get tickets to GP.

    Great post Jenny


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