Museums at Night Curator's Choice: Grayson Perry's taste tribe tapestries in Liverpool

By Pauline Rushton | 09 April 2014

Museums at Night Curator’s Choice: Pauline Rushton, Curator of Costume and Textiles at the Walker Art Gallery, on Grayson Perry’s The Vanity of Small Differences

A photo of a piece of fabric showing an urban scene from Britain
Grayson Perry, The Adoration of the Cage Fighters (2012)© Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre London / British Council. Grayson Perry. Photo: Stephen White. Gift of the artist / Victoria Miro Gallery with support of Channel 4 Television, The Art Fund / Sfumato Foundation. Additional support from AlixPartners
“Grayson Perry explores those most British of obsessions, class and taste, through the medium of the modern tapestry.

His assertion that ‘more than any other factor – more than age, race, religion or sexuality – one’s social class determines one’s taste’ will certainly provoke debate among visitors to the show.

Perry designed the six tapestries in the exhibition as part of a series he made with Channel 4 in 2012, All in the Best Possible Taste.

In this, he went on ‘a safari amongst the taste tribes of Britain’, to find out what was considered good taste among the working class residents of Sunderland, the middle class of Tunbridge Wells and the upper class of the Cotswolds.

A photo of a female curator in an art gallery
Curator Pauline Rushton is a fan of the six tapestries, which will open at the Walker Art Gallery on LightNight in May
Needless to say, the participants all had very different - and fascinating - takes on what constitutes good and bad taste.

Perry also examined the idea of social mobility between the classes. The tapestries are a modern version of A Rake’s Progress, the series of paintings by 18th century artist William Hogarth.

Like Hogarth’s character, Tom Rakewell, Perry’s hero, Tim Rakewell, comes from working class origins, marries into the middle class, makes enough money to buy himself an upper class lifestyle and then dies a tragic death.

Layered on top of this exploration of class and taste, Perry has included visual references to a number of Renaissance paintings in each tapestry.

He makes another link to Hogarth by including a pug dog in each work. It's a reference to the artist’s much-loved pet, Trump.

I love all six tapestries. They each bear a title inspired by a Renaissance masterpiece, but with a quirky modern twist.

My favourite is probably The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal. It is loaded with layers of meaning and sly references to modern lifestyle choices.

Having sold his software business to Richard Branson for millions, Tim and his wife relax in their large home in the country. In the centre, an angel announces the deal with Branson’s company, Virgin, recalling the scene in the Renaissance artist Robert Crampin’s painting in which the Angel Gabriel announces to the Virgin Mary that she will bear a Son.

On the left, Tim’s parents-in-law sit reading while his eldest child plays on the rug, which is decorated, incongruously, with tanks and Kalashnikov rifles.

All around them are the signs of their affluent lifestyle, symbolising their membership of the middle classes; the Le Creuset cast iron dish on the Aga, the Cath Kidston bag and organic vegetables on the table and the re-usable nappies drying on the clothes airer on the left.

On the wall, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, those modern icons of the computer age, gaze down benignly on the family. The convex mirror, meanwhile, and the discarded slippers on the right both refer us back to Jan van Eyck’s 15th century painting, The Arnolfini Portrait.

Perry’s great talent as a draughtsman and his genuine curiosity about the minutiae of people’s lives combine to produce a series of works which engage empathetically with potentially sensitive issues.

He never patronises while seeking to explore the choices that people make about where and how they live, what they wear and own.

When we reveal our taste preferences in any of these areas we make ourselves vulnerable, because they often lie at the centre of who we are, or at least who we would like others to think we are.

Maybe this is why Perry ultimately believes that ‘good taste is that which does not alienate your peers.’"

  • The Vanity of Small Differences opens at the Walker Art Gallery on LightNight, the fifth annual Museums at Night festival across Liverpool, on May 16 2014. Visit lightnightliverpool.co.uk for the full programme.‎ Exhibition runs until August 10.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A photo of a piece of fabric showing an urban scene from Britain
#Lamentation (2012)© Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre London / British Council. Grayson Perry. Photo: Stephen White. Gift of the artist / Victoria Miro Gallery with support of Channel 4 Television, The Art Fund / Sfumato Foundation. Additional support from AlixPartners
A photo of a piece of fabric showing an urban scene from Britain
The Upper Class at Bay (2012)© Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre London / British Council. Grayson Perry. Photo: Stephen White. Gift of the artist / Victoria Miro Gallery with support of Channel 4 Television, The Art Fund / Sfumato Foundation. Additional support from AlixPartners
A photo of a piece of fabric showing an urban scene from Britain
The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal (2012)© Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre London / British Council. Grayson Perry. Photo: Stephen White. Gift of the artist / Victoria Miro Gallery with support of Channel 4 Television, The Art Fund / Sfumato Foundation. Additional support from AlixPartners
A photo of a piece of fabric showing an urban scene from Britain
Expulsion from Number 8 Eden Close (2012)© Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre London / British Council. Grayson Perry. Photo: Stephen White. Gift of the artist / Victoria Miro Gallery with support of Channel 4 Television, The Art Fund / Sfumato Foundation. Additional support from AlixPartners
A photo of a piece of fabric showing an urban scene from Britain
The Agony in the Car Park (2012)© Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre London / British Council. Grayson Perry. Photo: Stephen White. Gift of the artist / Victoria Miro Gallery with support of Channel 4 Television, The Art Fund / Sfumato Foundation. Additional support from AlixPartners
Hundreds of events take place for Museums at Night between May 15-17 2014. Visit museumsatnight.org.uk and follow the festival on Twitter @MuseumsAtNight.

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