Philip Attwood, Exhibition Project Curator
Chair of the Modern Museum Group at the British Museum
You might be wondering why a contemporary artist is putting on a show at the British Museum. Well, the artist is Grayson Perry, Turner Prize winner, probably most famous for his witty and satirical ceramics. He approached the Museum a few years ago and proposed an exhibition which would pay tribute to anonymous craftsmen and craftswomen over the centuries. The British Museum is the ideal place for this, as its collection spans over 2.5 million years of human culture and most of the objects in the collection were made by people whose names are lost to us today. There is almost no other place on earth that could claim to represent the history and culture of humankind. Grayson’s work sits alongside these objects, and shows us new ways of looking at the collection.
The Museum also has a tradition of working with contemporary artists. Years ago we worked with Henry Moore and Eduardo Paolozzi and in the last few years the Museum has played host to the exhibitions Statuephilia (2008), which included works by Antony Gormley. Damien Hirst, and Marc Quinn, and Medals of Dishonour (2009), which featured medals by William Kentridge, Jake & Dinos Chapman, Steve Bell and even an example by Grayson. This is in addition to the ongoing work by curators across the Museum to make sure the collection contains contemporary pieces – from many cultures across the world.
I have spent two years behind the scenes, working with Eleanor Bradshaw and curators from departments across the Museum to help Grayson put his exhibition together. I’m really pleased to finally get to share it with you. The press reviews are just starting to come in, and writing in The Independent, Howard Jacobson called it ‘the best exhibition by a contemporary artist I’ve seen in years.’ Some have questioned why this exhibition is at the British Museum but I hope the answer is becoming clear.
Neil MacGregor, Director of the Museum, has explained that it is quite different to anything we’ve done before. Usually exhibitions will be based on academic research of a particular subject, but the British Museum is also a “storehouse of the world’s imagination”. It’s a source of inspiration and has been for many artists. This exhibition shows how we can think about the world in new ways and reveals the extraordinary imaginative power of the collection.
Grayson has made it explicit that he wants the viewer of the exhibition to come away inspired. If you have visited the exhibition, what did you think? Please tell us which bits you enjoyed and which you didn’t on Twitter using #graysonperry or comment below.
I wanted the exhibition to offer an insight into Grayson’s creative imagination, and show that there are many different interpretations of objects in the Museum. Many people associate the Museum with ancient things, even though many of the pieces in the collection are contemporary. I hope this exhibition has changed people’s views.
I look forward to reading and responding to your thoughts and comments.