Grayson’s tapestries visit Surrey for the first time. For those with good taste. Possibly.
Grayson Perry’s The Vanity of Small Differences – six large-scale tapestries exploring the British fascination with social class, created by the Turner Prize-winning artist as a result of his acclaimed TV series – go on display at The Lightbox this January. The tapestries, which are part of the Arts Council Collection, are touring the country and this will be their first public display in Surrey.
Inspired by the characters, incidents and objects the artist encountered during the making of his Channel 4 documentary series, All in the Best Possible Taste, the tapestries evolved from drawings and photography Perry made whilst travelling around England in search of what is – or isn’t – deemed to be ‘good taste’.
Grayson Perry is one of Britain’s most celebrated artists and cultural figures. He is recognised as a great chronicler of contemporary life, tackling subjects that are universally human: social status, identity, sexuality, religion and more.
In The Vanity of Small Differences, Perry shares a story of 21st century social mobility. The tapestries chart the life of a fictional character, Tim Rakewell, whose ‘class journey’ has parallels with that of his 18th century namesake, Tom Rakewell – the central figure in William Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress (1732-34).
As Hogarth told his tale in a series of eight paintings, Grayson Perry shares the rise and demise of Tim Rakewell in this series of six, 2m x 4m tapestries – an art form traditionally associated with grand houses for the depiction of great historical, religious and military scenes. In The Vanity of Small Differences, Perry plays with the idea of using this ancient allegorical art to elevate the commonplace dramas of contemporary British life.
Art historical references within contemporary scenes feature throughout the series. In The Adoration of the Cage Fighters,in which the infant Tim reaches for his mother’s smartphone, there are echoes of Mantegna’s Adoration of the Shepherds (c.1450), and Perry’s second tapestry, Agony in the Car Park, is described by the artist as a “distant relative” of Bellini’s Agony in the Garden (c.1465).
The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal shows Tim as a wealthy man having sold his business to Richard Branson, with the convex mirror and discarded shoes recalling the famous Arnofilni Portrait (1434) by Jan van Eyck; and in The Upper Class at Bay, Tim and his wife, now owners of a mansion in the Cotswolds, resemble Mr and Mrs Andrews walking through their estate in Thomas Gainsborough’s celebrated painting.
But the story ends in tragedy. In Perry’s final, dramatic tapestry, Lamentation – which takes inspiration from The Lamentation (c.1441) by Rogier van der Weyden – Tim’s life comes to an end following a car accident. This image also reconnects the series with Hogarth, whose final painting in A Rake’s Progress records Tom Rakewell’s death.
Grayson Perry said: “The tapestries tell the story of class mobility, for I think nothing has as strong an influence on our aesthetic taste as the social class in which we grow up. I am interested in the politics of consumerism and the history of popular design but for this project I focus on the emotional investment we make in the things we choose to live with, wear, eat, read or drive. Class and taste run deep in our character – we care. This emotional charge is what draws me to a subject”.
Sarah Brown, Director of The Lightbox, said: “We are thrilled that The Lightbox will host this exhibition, which marks Grayson Perry’s first solo exhibition in Surrey and is also the first time that The Vanity of Small Differences have been on public display in the county. Creating local opportunities to experience the best contemporary and modern art is at the heart of what we do, and through our exhibitions, activities and community events we work hard to ensure that as many people as possible can benefit.”
“We share with Grayson a firm belief that “art is good for you”, and never have we needed it more. This exhibition will provide inspiration for the New Year and we look forward to welcoming visitors.”
Grayson Perry: The Vanity of Small Differences opens at The Lightbox, Woking on 27 January (until 2 June). A programme of events for visitors, schools and community groups accompanies the exhibition. For further information: lightbox.org.uk
Image credit: GraysonPerry: The Adoration of the Cage Fighters 2012, Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London ©GraysonPerry Gift of the artist and Victoria Miro Gallery with the support of Channel 4 Television, The Art Fund and Sfumato Foundation with additional support from Alix Partners