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


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