A Modern Tapestry by Grayson Perry

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Retail Therapy?
By Sarah Douglas
Published: October 14, 2009

LONDON—Considering all the talk about recession aesthetics these days, cross-dressing 2003 Turner Prize winner Grayson Perry may have hit a nerve. Perry, resplendent in a colorful, milkmaid-style costume he designed himself (“My Jesus dress,” he called it, and indeed it featured a set of large baby-blue buttons representing the Crucifixion), was on hand at Victoria Miro Gallery yesterday to present his latest effort, the sprawling Walthamstow Tapestry, which pictures the seven stages of man as, in Perry’s words, “one long shopping trip.”

No sooner are we born, as Perry’s tapestry tells it, than we begin to navigate a forest of brands, from Pampers, KFC, EasyJet, and Volvo to McDonald’s, Disney, Chanel, Rolex, IKEA, Microsoft, Adidas, Nintendo, and many more, represented here as medieval-style personages. Not even art is immune to consumerism: In a trenchant art world send-up, the Guggenheim, a chic figure in sunglasses and a striped frock, is being led by a hound on a leash, labeled Sotheby’s.

In the summer of 2008, just before the credit crunch, Perry recalled, he was inspired by a set of Sumatran batiks decorated with soldiers to create a sort of Guernica for the Depression. “The Bayeux Tapestry is about the Norman invasion of Britain,” he said. “This is about the invasion of brands into our world. Even without their logos, these names set off a little storm of feelings.”

This is not to say his tapestry is merely a critique of consumerism. “I wanted to create a desirable object,” he said, noting what he sees as a “category error in the art world” where things like humor and political importance are mistaken for art. The paramount value in visual art is “visual pleasure. Everything is being done better elsewhere,” he noted. “One of my comforts is that life is meaningless,” the artist mused in conclusion. “I’m very proud of this. I hope it ends up in the foyer of a bank. Rumor has it, though, that architect Norman Foster snatched it up. But fret not: A smaller version is available in Miro’s booth at Frieze.

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