Grayson Perry: Bloated bits of art world could go down the pan... maybe that includes me

By Ian Youngs
Entertainment & arts reporter

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Grayson PerryImage source, Andrew Brooks
Image caption,
Grayson Perry has launched a delayed exhibition tied to his Art Club TV show

Art fairs and other "bloated, money-drenched" parts of the art world might not return after the pandemic, according to Grayson Perry.

The Turner Prize winner caused a stir in November when he said Covid could clear some "dead wood" from the arts.

"I thought things like art fairs might go down the pan. That was what I meant at the time," he said on Tuesday.

"I thought there were certain aspects of cultural life that were probably bloated and un-green."

Perry was speaking at the belated launch of an exhibition tied to his lockdown TV show, Grayson's Art Club, in which he asked members of the public to submit their creations.

Image source, Manchester Art Gallery
Image caption,
The exhibition will run in Manchester until the end of October

It was originally due to open in Manchester in November but, like all public events, was put on ice.

"Because everything stopped, you're thinking, what do we want to start up again?" he said. "It is a reset button. That's what I meant."

After his original comments were published, he clarified that he was not referring to people losing their jobs or galleries closing.

He said on Tuesday that he had art fairs, where collectors gather from around the world, in mind. "That was what I was thinking of, and things like that," he told BBC News.

"The kind of bloated, money-drenched… But, you know, I'm part of that," he added. "Maybe I'm part of the stuff that's got to be cleared away."

Image source, Manchester Art Gallery

However, he is one of the UK's most popular artists and Grayson's Art Club was one of the TV hits of lockdown. It shone a light on the creativity around the country, far from the money-spinning art market.

The works on show at Manchester Art Gallery are mainly by members of the public, as well as some by established artists like Sir Antony Gormley and Maggi Hambling, and celebrities like Harry Hill and Noel Fielding.

The delayed exhibition finally opened on Wednesday. All 13,750 available tickets have sold out until 20 June, with the waiting list also full. The gallery is waiting to see whether lockdown restrictions will be removed after that before releasing more tickets.

No experience necessary

"I am very pleased and proud to come back here," Perry said. "One of the things that we hoped we were offering to Manchester Art Gallery was an exhibition that would draw the crowds, so it has fulfilled that promise, and that's great.

"I'm not sure if I've seen a show quite like this before. It has such a range of artists in it, from all backgrounds and levels of experience.

"You've got Antony Gormley and then you've got someone who's never done any painting before and had a go and ended up in the exhibition, and I think that's fantastic."

Image source, Jacqueline Taylor
Image caption,
Jacqueline Taylor's painting, titled Thursday, 8pm, depicts a clap for carers

Those with works in the exhibition include Barbara Ann Swan, 65, a retired supermarket worker from Ellesmere Port, Cheshire.

Grayson's Art Club has "helped me survive", while making art during lockdown "kept me sane and gave me a focus", she said.

"When Grayson said, 'Barbara, you're in', I could not believe it," she said. "When I submitted my work, I never dreamed that my work would be hanging here in Manchester Art Gallery.

"Manchester Art Gallery has meant so much to me. When my children were younger, I used to bring them here. I never dreamed my work would be hanging here."

'Painting is like meditation'

Jacqueline Taylor, 43, from Stockport, is in the exhibition with a painting titled Thursday, 8pm, depicting residents of a street during a clap for carers.

Painting is "really good for mental health and wellbeing", she said. "I think everybody should give it a go.

"It's a bit like meditation to me. Time passes by without having to think about all the worries. Instead, you're thinking about, 'Oh, is that leg right, or is that shirt right?'"

Image source, Andrew Brooks
Image caption,
Grayson Perry and wife Philippa, who also appeared on the TV show

Another exhibition, Grayson Perry: The Pre Therapy Years, showing the artist's early works, will open at York Art Gallery on 28 May, more than 11 months later than planned.

Perry, 61, became a household name after picking up the Turner Prize in 2003.

This year's Turner Prize shortlist was announced earlier this month, and is made up of five collectives who have helped to "inspire social change through art", rather than individual artists.

"That's very reflective of what's going on in the art world nowadays, especially [among] younger artists," Perry said. "So, I think that that's interesting.

"Maybe nowadays the idea of the genius individual is abhorrent to the new young artists. I don't know."

Art activism worries

Speaking about the swing from aestheticism to activism, he said: "I worry about that, because good politics does not make good art, necessarily. They're not the same thing.

"You can agree with the politics and still hate the art. And I think that people go to art galleries for pleasure, to be visually delighted.

"The primary role of the artist is to be visually delightful, to make something that people love looking at in a kind of sensual way, maybe even covet. 'I would like that picture on my wall.'

"Whereas you can nod along and go, 'Yes that's very good, very good point, you're on the right side of history. Ugly objects though, I wouldn't want in my house.'

"But maybe beauty will be redefined by the young activist artists."