In his latest TV series the artist Grayson Perry has once again picked up the theme of Identity this time focusing on personal identity – how we see ourselves and how we think others might see us.
I have been a ‘fan’ of Perry for many years and as well as seeing his work on exhibition I have heard him deliver lectures at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea and also at the V&A. He is an interesting chap with plenty to say, although I am not sure I agree with all the points he raises. His TV current series on Channel 4 explores ideas about identity with artworks which express the ideas brought out in the programmes. These artworks have been placed on display within the National Portrait Gallery among the permanent collection, but in a position which has some relevance to the piece itself. It has been quite a while since my last visit to the NPG, the rooms with the Perry show were predictably very busy, sadly the pay on entry show (William Morris) was a lot quieter. At the time of writing I have not yet seen the final programme in the current series so I have come to the artworks featured in that programme with no previous knowledge of what they are about aside from the short information card beside the piece. At the top of the stairs is a large tapestry called ‘Map of Days’ which quotes (visually) various well known figures and symbols ingrained in British culture.
Map of Days by Grayson Perry
There is a card which suggests a route around the rooms in which the works are placed. Naturally they were attracting considerable amounts of attention which I found interesting in itself. Undoubtedly they are well made, articulate pieces which on the face of it do exactly what the artist claims is the intention an “attempt to portray the character of the identity journey they [each subject] are facing.” I found myself being more and more interested in the other work on the walls in each room and wondering about these people and their ‘identity journeys’ and less interested in the work I had come to see. I came away with a nagging feeling that somehow despite the serious ‘face’ of the exhibition, there wasn’t somehow an element of ‘tongue-in-cheek’ going on, some gentle jesting at the subjects’ expense, although I am sure that is not what is intended.
A Modern Family – vase by Grayson Perry
The Earl of Essex – digital portrait miniature by Grayson Perry
Having seen the programmes (well 2 out of 3 at time of writing) and visited the exhibition do I think it succeeds once the obvious elements of celebrity and mass media culture exposure have been stripped away? It certainly has novelty value, and each piece of work could very easily be made en-masse and sold as merchandise in a’cool’ Shoreditch boutique. I just can’t help feeling a little disappointed and that the works are just that bit too ‘obvious’, perhaps that’s just the pay-off for the involvement of populist TV.