Silly, intelligent, poignant and blurring the boundaries between contemporary culture and historical remains, Grayson Perry‘s The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman is a testimony to the insight of the Turner Prize winning artist.
The concept is simple; spend ages sifting through The British Museum’s back catalogue to identify interesting and important relics by unknown artists, associate that craftsmanship with your own previous work in such a way that it has meaning and add to that with complex new work that ties it all together.
Actually, that’s not simple at all. That’s an f-ing lot of work and dedication to art, and as you walk around the labyrinthian exhibition (which fools you into thinking that it’s quite small to begin with only to reveal much more than you can possibly take in) you start to sense the real strength of the exhibition.
One of the things that jumps out at you is the blurring of different cultures and religions that shows the synergies in the evolution of all societies. This can be seen in the examples of Christian triptychs displayed next to the 3 panel-based pilgrims’ souvenirs from Eastern India or the Japanese and Indian portable shrines.
Perry also has his own religion with his teddy bear as the figure head, which he took on a Pope mobile inspired pilgrimage to Germany. The main dictum of his religion is “hold your beliefs lightly” and it is levied at the other religions of the world in a tongue in cheek, but, at the same time, seminal sort of way (commas hey! keh!).
It’s not just religion though that is covered, The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman is also a collection of wonder ranging from a beautifully decorated pearl shell from Western Australia to 15th Century Staffordshire pottery that looks uncannily like a Perry forgery.
His own work on display is just as impressive as the work by the unknown craftsmen. Head of a Fallen Giant is colossal and imposing, Map of the Truths and Beliefs (wool and cotton) is a vast tapestry with pop art and surrealist tendencies, Tomb Guardian is graphic and hilarious and Pilgrimage to the British Museum is a complete departure with its ink and graphite sketch-work.
One of the weirdest things about the exhibition is that it’s also really funny. As you’re reading a serious critique of modern society on the write-up of say the Frivolous Now vase, you can here someone snort out a sheepish laugh at the gaudy and provocative way in which the exhibition examines and mocks religion, which reminds you that despite Perry’s obvious talents and love of art he’s also a comedian of sorts.
Grayson Perry’s The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman is a brilliant exhibition, both for its inspired curation as much for its creativity and attention to detail.
Grayson Perry’s The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman review: 5/5