British Museum blog

Making connections

Philippa Perry, Grayson’s wife, on looking for connections in
the exhibition Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman

On the rare occasions when Grayson and I visit a shopping street together, his favourite place seems to be the charity shops. We go into one together and I look at everything and after about three minutes of finding nothing I long for fresh air and wait for him outside. He takes longer than me, he looks more carefully and comes out after a few more minutes with a rare book or a tweed jacket that somehow I managed to overlook. And when we take his finds back home it is as though we’ve always had them. They seem to have his handwriting on them.

Amulet with plaque, ‘Tsa Tsa’. Bronze and paper, Tibet, 1800–1899.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

When I saw his final selection from the British Museum this is what struck me. To me, it looked like the objects he chose could have been made by him – they had his personality already. It can be hard to know what he has made and what he has found until you look at the labels. For example, the tiny portable shrine he has chosen (Amulet with plaque, ‘Tsa Tsa’, Tibet 1800-99) reminds me of the one he made for the Tate gift shop in 2009 (Tate Modern Reliquary).

Grayson Perry (b. 1960), Tate Modern Reliquary. 2009.
© Grayson Perry, courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro Gallery, London.

I asked him if ‘Tsa Tsa’ influenced his Tate gift shop reliquary, but no, he found it after he had made the pendant. Both these items are in the exhibition but they are not placed obviously side by side. I like this, it means that we look and let our minds make the connection; it is not done for us. This is not an exhibition to be rushed through. The more you look the more connections you can make.

Grayson won’t necessarily make connections obvious: his pot ‘Grumpy old God’ is based on the Greek vases in the Museum but he has not included one from the Museum’s collection. He asks us in a label not to look too closely for meaning. When he was selecting, he did it intuitively and he invites us to look at his selection in that way. But not looking for meaning does not mean not looking and noticing how things feels for us.

I am reminded of what Alain de Botton once said, which was something like don’t go to Cambrey and look at where Proust lived with your eyes, but stay at home and look around you with Proust’s eyes. If Grayson can pull out this stuff from the collection which seems so resonant of him, his style and his meanings…if objects in the Museum replicates the ages before Grayson made things – stuff that he went on to make before seeing it – then we know that not only Grayson’s psyche is to be found in the British Museum, but all our psyches. We just have to take the time to look and have confidence in our personal reactions to what we see.

And I really mustn’t rush outside when we visit charity shops but stay awhile to see if I too can find myself in an object there.

Find out more about the Grayson Perry Late event.

Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman
is supported by AlixPartners, with Louis Vuitton.
Book tickets now

Filed under: Exhibitions, Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman

9 Responses - Comments are closed.

  1. Mandy says:

    When I visited the exhibition I was struck by how many of my personal favourite objects had been selected. I adored the Dogu exhibition at the BM earlier and have always liked the Toft wares for a start. TOTUC left me with a silly grin on my face and a feeling Grayson and I “get” a lot of the same things. And yes, the charity shop thing happens to me as well. Sometimes I just dive off into a store or car boot because I think I can feel something calling to me …something “with my name on”. I’m clearly mad as cheese but I can’t resist a significant object.


  2. Madeleine says:

    Thank you for that inspiring post – I am really looking forward to seeing the exhibition now!
    I am very interested in the synchronicity between things, like your husband designing the pendant for the Tate and then finding the amulet.
    It reminds me of that phrase by a Japanese potter/philosopher, who said. “The pot is already made.”, before his student’s hand had even touched the clay… It is as if everything we are meant to let unfold is already manifest within us.


  3. ri.g74 says:

    Tomb of the unknown craftsman reignites our sense of place and compassion. Beautifully transversing reality and imagination, Grayson shines through with grace and humility.


  4. jayne Reich says:

    I took my 8-year old daughter to see the show and we both found it great fun, a feast for the eyes and soul. She is making a shrine at school. Grayson, Mr Perry, what a gift you have shared with us through this exhibition and your work. And thanks for this opportunity to say that.


  5. Hope to get to see it soon…


  6. Grayson shows humility and grace in every piece he makes. I found the transference across time between his and the old pieces powerful triggering memories that have become lost …. of time well spent in the making.


  7. Matthew Charles Robinson says:

    I am a PGCE student at the Institute of Education and have a blogging task, I am on this page
    As Derrick Jay my tutor wrote on his blog about this Grayson Perry exhibition. I am a Fine art teacher.
    Firstly I am a fine artist who feels that craftsmanship had lost its way within Fine Art during the 1990’s with conceptual rationalisation dominating taking a president. It’s nice to see that Perry is almost celebrating craft that has been lost in time and space, the idea also that you can find lost objects that you identify with the exhibit alongside your own feels a bit hypocritical he is celebrating then exhibiting as his own, claiming ownership over the lost object.
    The fact he creates his own craft alongside his own redeems this idea into a great exhibition


    • Mandy says:

      “….craftsmanship had lost its way within Fine Art during the 1990’s with conceptual rationalisation dominating taking a president.” OK, but …

      I got the impression craftsmanship was doing fine all along but Contemporary Fine Art didn’t want to be associated….well, some fine artists anyway. The divide is as unreal as that between curation and research.


  8. Matthew Charles Robinson says:

    actually ment he creates his own craft alongside lost craft objects redeeming this idea into a great exhibition


Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 14,944 other followers


Follow @britishmuseum on Twitter

British Museum on Instagram

You can now discover thousands of British Museum objects in partnership with @googleartproject at We’ve asked staff members to highlight their favourites and explain what makes them special. Chris Spring, Curator of Africa Collections, describes why he finds the ‘Throne of weapons’ so powerful. ‘This war memorial celebrates the ordinary people of Mozambique, many of them unarmed, who stood up to a culture of violence. It represents both a human tragedy and a human triumph. The Throne's essential humanity is suggested right away by its anthropomorphic qualities - it has arms, legs, a back and most importantly a face - actually two faces. My first reaction was that these faces are crying in pain, though they could also be seen as smiling faces finally freed from conflict. These anthropomorphic qualities also link it immediately to the arts of Africa, in which non-figurative objects such as chairs, stools, weapons, pots etc are seen as - and described as - human beings. The Throne has toured the world, taking its message of peace to schools, churches, shopping centres and even prisons – and of course, to museums and galleries.’ #MuseumOfTheWorld We’re celebrating our partnership with @googleartproject, and have asked curators to tell us about their favourite objects. Hugo Chapman, Keeper of Prints and Drawings, explains why he chose this chalk drawing by Michelangelo. ‘One of the things I love about drawings is the way they sometimes allow a glimpse into the private, behind the scenes world of an artist, one unseen in finished works in paint or stone. An example of that is a red chalk drawing by Michelangelo of grotesque heads in red chalk that reveal that the Florentine Renaissance artist had a lively, if caustic, sense of humour. The three heads were probably drawn to amuse but at the same instruct his pupils, as the three studies show how slight changes can radically alter the reading of an image with the character and mood of each figure (paranoid anxiety; vacuous joy; and depressive gloom) signalled by the position and erectness of their donkey-like ears.  I wish my ears were as expressive.’ Discover many more incredible works of art in the Google Cultural Institute at

#Michelangelo #art To celebrate our partnership with @googleartproject, we’ve asked members of British Museum staff to highlight their favourite objects and explain what makes them special. Jill Cook, Deputy Keeper of Britain, Europe & Prehistory, chose this stone chopping tool from an early human campsite in Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. ‘Holding this 2 million year old African tool in my hand I am reminded that whatever differences exist between people now, we are united by our common origin in Africa. The discovery of this piece by Louis Leakey in 1931 began to change our understanding of what makes us human. It illustrates the beginning of a transition from an ancestral ape that walked upright on two legs within the confines of a limited ecological niche to humans with more complex brains capable of changing and eventually dominating the world around us by making tools and weapons. This chopping tool is one of the seeds from which all human cultures and societies have grown.’ Discover the stories of thousands of objects in the Google Cultural Institute at

#MuseumOfTheWorld In Victorian England many people were fascinated by their past, and the ancient tribal leader Caratacus (also spelt Caractacus) was adopted as a symbol of national pride and independence. Like Boudica, Caratacus resisted the Roman invasion of Britain. Although he was eventually defeated, he earned a reputation as a noble and worthy foe. The Victorian sculptor J H Foley portrays him here standing triumphant, the embodiment of courageous English spirit. See this incredible #Movember moustache in our #Celts exhibition, until 31 January 2016.
J H Foley (1818–1874), Caractacus. Marble, 1856–1859. On loan from Guildhall Art Gallery/Mansion House, City of London. Some more #Movember inspiration! Here’s the Museum’s security team from 1902 photographed on the front steps. They include officers from the Metropolitan Police, and the London Fire Brigade (identified by their flat caps). We’re celebrating #Movember with Museum moustaches great and small. Here’s a #Movember fact: Peter the Great of Russia introduced a beard tax in 1698 and this token was given as proof of payment!

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 14,944 other followers

%d bloggers like this: