The National Portrait Gallery hosted a significant Grayson Perry exhibition in 2014, bringing the artist’s Who Are You? portraits to the masses when it opened late in the year. Tagging up with his work for Channel 4 on British identity, the exhibition gave Perry an element of constructional constraint to work with, leaving his often wildly creative output to tackle portraiture and the notion of national identity.
The exhibition opened at the National Portrait Gallery on the 25th October 2014, and ran right the way through winter until the 15th March 2015. Entry to see the portraits was free to the public, with the gallery open from 10am to 6pm Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, with later evening opening times of 10am to 9pm on Thursday and Friday.
The exhibition was made up of 14 portraits, including one self portrait and a new tapestry from Perry, building on his previous suite of tapestries, The Vanity of Small Differences, which were inspired by his BAFTA winning Channel 4 series, In the Best Possible Taste. The portraits feature individuals, families and groups that are facing a moment in their lives in which they need to define who they are.
Perry has taken his experiences with his sitters and captured his impressions of this into the portraits he’s created with some becoming miniatures, other large tapestries, and also statues and pots. They were placed and hung in the Gallery’s nineteenth and twentieth-century collection displays, with a diverse mix of sitters portrayed, including politician Chris Huhne, a young female-to-male transsexual, Northern Ireland Loyalist marchers, and X-Factor contestant Rylan Clark. It’s clearly a broad spectrum that he’s tried to encapsulate, signifying a significant element of his interpretation of British identity.
The Channel 4 documentary TV series of the same name aired at the time of the opening of the exhibition, focusing on the developing relationship between artist and subjects during the sittings. Each of the 3 60-minute films will build to the completion of the work and the reaction of the sitters as they get to see how Perry has encapsulated them in the portrait.
Grayson Perry’s Who Are You? exhibition builds on the success of his very impressive Tomb Of The Unknown Craftsman exhibition at the British Museum, which combined a large number of his own contemporary work with items he curated from the collections of the museum. The Turner Prize-winning artist was also the Reith Lecturer in 2013 for the BBC discussing the state of modern art, which is clearly a subject he has taken up to champion the importance and impact of contemporary art.
The films and display coincide with the publication of Grayson Perry’s new book Playing to the Gallery: Helping Contemporary Art in its Struggle to be Understood published in the autumn by Penguin.
Talking to the National Portrait Gallery about the accompanying documentary TV series Grayson Perry said, ‘I’ve always been interested in the things we tend not to think about or take for granted, like our sense of aesthetic taste. In this show I investigate our slippery sense of who we feel we are. Identity seems to be something that is only an issue when it is threatened or problematic in some way. I have chosen as my subjects individuals, families or groups who are in situations that highlight certain aspects of being human. I am hoping that they will throw some light on experiences that we all share.’
Perry will be following Who Are You? with another major London exhibition exploring similar themes at the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde park. Read more about The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!