Grayson Perry: Super Rich Interior Decoration
25 September – 20 December 2019
Shopping for Meaning (detail), 2019, glazed ceramic, © Grayson Perry, courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London/Venice
The phrase 'political, but make it fashion' is all that came to mind whilst visiting Grayson Perry’s new incredible exhibition at the Victoria Miro in Mayfair. A small, seemingly minimalistic sample of the artist’s work holds a multitude of realities and meanings which go well beyond their flawless presentation and aesthetic look. Made up of nine pots, a lamp, a painting, a tapestry, a carpet and four handbags, the layout wittily criticises modern culture and 'hipster' tendencies of millennials. It speaks of London, of England and of the world, while focusing on a careful anthropological analysis of what we consider important. In particular, it examines how our lifestyle and political tendencies could be seen under another eye.
The first piece, a pot with 'Vote Tory' painted on it in bright red, represents a collage of Conservative leaders’ pictures, cut up into flowers and hearts. The light green and vivid red colour scheme, as well as the shapes, ironically mimic late 60s hippie art. In times that seem to be getting darker and darker, the piece asks us whether we need another Love Revolution. Perry becomes, once again, sarcastically political in displaying a series of pastel coloured handbags, one of which is opened to reveal its insides: flowers which state 'Vote Tory', ironically glorifying capitalism.
Installation view, Grayson Perry: Super Rich Interior Decoration, Victoria Miro Mayfair. All works © Grayson Perry, courtesy Victoria Miro, London/Venice
Two of the most striking pieces in the collection are pots with outlines of objects and situations. Instead of actually painting them in, Perry labels each one of them, lending a sense of irony to the piece. This is intensified by the outlines embodying hipster culture and elements of modern society. The smaller pot outlines the binary between the glorification of the past—the 'vintage' craze—as well as the importance of appearance and social progression: this includes diversity, café culture and pets. By observing the piece, one notices how they are unconsciously a part of this society; their labelling makes them appear like items in a 'checklist' of living a modern bohemian dream. Its larger, sister pot introduces elements including blood, police tape and vandalised trees in the background of a seemingly perfect reality. Hinting at gentrification, and how this influx of wealth attempts to mask the harsh realities of such places, these elements seem shocking when paired with others like a gay parade, a thin woman doing yoga, or a girl taking a selfie. This is the double-edged sword of urban modernity.
Another theme of the exhibition is our relationship with social media, and the image we reflect of ourselves: our urgency to be perceived as aware and mindful people. Perry includes stock-style photos depicting daily life in many of his works in this exhibit; the themes tend to be similar and repetitive, with images that people consider 'inspirational' in their aesthetic. It wittily points out our society’s obsession with appearance, and how these pictures are used to set a standard that millennials feel the need to live up to. A pot connects these pictures through paths, which take the names of everyday notions. These range from 'instagrammer' to 'cultural appropriation' and 'service economy', showcasing society's attempts to tackle issues of social justice, whilst simultaneously placing value in the useless endeavour of appearances and social media.
Large Expensive Abstract Painting (detail), 2019, tapestry, © Grayson Perry, courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London/Venice
Perry's distinct criticism of financial inequality can be noticed even further. The tapestry features words representing the barrier between upper and lower classes, and these juxtapositions (such as between 'organic' and 'council' housing) are particularly evocative. Additionally, two of the pots depict members of the upper class observing the outside world from their bubble of privilege with nonchalance. Notably, they are ignoring a fire (which seems to speak of Grenfell) and their own issues, such as alcoholism, suicidal depression and inequality between the North and the South.
One of the most interesting pieces focuses on mocking consumerist culture whilst breaking gender stereotypes. The artist is seen dressed as a woman, in vintage clothing, posing in front of luxury stores as if they were touristic attractions. The flaunting of wealth and loss of interest for cultural and historical spots marks its critical tone. The critique of capitalism becomes international in a grotesque print criticising money laundering and corruption; a woman and a devilish-looking man are driving a car made up of pieces of tax-free countries (Monaco and the Cayman Islands among others). The engine reads 'pure greed', and the car wheels turn thanks into guilt, showing the horrific moral truth behind capitalistic societies.
Don’t Look Down (detail), 2019, © Grayson Perry, courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London/Venice
A striking final piece is a gigantic printed carpet featuring, in vivid colours, a homeless man (remnant perhaps of Jesus, perhaps of the Statue of Liberty) surrounded by symbols of human corruption and representations of the failure of modernity. Despite him desperately trying to ask for help, the grotesque image depicts him in the midst of syringes, alcohol bottles, money and waste. Would that be Jesus in modern times? Or is it the failure of capitalism and the sought-after freedom of America?
People, after all, like to have their place in the world and in society. Perry manages to deconstruct, and decontextualise, contemporary society's patterns, exposing them as ridiculous. He makes us question our place in modernity, in a society based on unequal privilege, in the image of ourselves that we create on the Internet. Political, but make it fashion, because everyone needs a grotesque version of modernity on their living room floor.
Edited by Alexia McDonald, Digital Editor