LONDON.-Two specially created works by Turner prize winner Grayson Perry, for a new Hayward Touring show, challenges the celebrity culture of contemporary Britain. The exhibition Unpopular Culture: Grayson Perry Selects from the Arts Council Collection opens on Saturday 10 May at De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea before embarking on a national tour. The exhibition focuses on the time between the war years redefining this as the period from post World War II to the Thatcherite revolution of the 80s.
The first work, an astonishing cast bronze skull called Head of a Fallen Giant is four times life size and is described by Perry as war like. The subject is the changing face of Britain in the second half of the twentieth century and is a voodoo relic of a once huge empire encrusted with a boiled down essence of itself in the form of tourist tat. The surface of the skull is encrusted with symbols of Britain, from Union Jacks, three lions and St George and the dragon, to routemaster buses, beefeaters, thatched cottages and acorns, all symbols that Perry believes Brits hold more dear 'than blinging diamonds.' This is Grayson's particular and personal take on 'Britishness', via sculptures of William Turnbull and Eduardo Paolozzi.
The second work, a coil pot called Queens Bitter, is made in the style of an old fashioned ale pot. Queens Bitter is covered with images of English roses, acorns, pearly kings and queens, school boys in uniforms waving Union Jacks and Perry himself dressed in a style once beloved by HM The Queen: skirt suit with headscarf. The pot is a response to the paintings of Jack Smith and the ethnographic studies of Britain by photographers Tony Ray-Jones and Patrick Ward and recalls a society built on hobbies, pub singsongs with Knees up Mother Brown and ale drinking.
Both works are personal and respectful responses by Perry to the memory of the Britain of his parents generation and of his childhood invigorated and inspired by his selections from the Arts Council Collection, which is managed by The Hayward, Southbank Centre. Unpopular Culture is part of a season of exhibitions and events celebrating The Haywards 40th Birthday, beginning on 1 May with May 68: Posters from the Paris Rebellion through to Andy Warhol, Other Voices, Other Rooms in October.
Grayson Perry said: This show is primarily my hearts response to the Collection. Ideas came later and knocked it into shape. To my surprise what came into focus during this process was my nostalgic vision of post-war, pre-Thatcher Britain. I hope it shows a slow-burn vision of our country away from the hoopla of clichéd headlines. It is lyrical but also spiky, there is romanticism and anxiety. Between all these images whispers a voice not unlike Phillip Larkin whose poems I feature in the catalogue.
Unpopular Culture may betray something about my attitude to art now, in an artworld inured to shock one of the last sins available to the artist is to be slightly conservative. The main message I hope people go away with is a celebration of a particular tone of Britishness, unsexy to gel headed P.R.s, but important, as Larkin says before I snuff it, the whole boiling will be bricked in except for the tourist parts.
Ralph Rugoff, Hayward Director said: The Arts Council Collection is one of the foremost national collections of British post-war art, with over 7,500 works. We are delighted that Grayson agreed to work with us and make such a personal selection with a compelling narrative. The Hayward has both specifically curated and toured exhibitions since its inception. In the year of our 40th birthday, we are proud to showcase our commitment to national touring with this fascinating exhibition that explores an under appreciated period in British Art.
Unpopular Culture examines a period in history which Perry argues was before British Art became fashionable. The exhibition of more than 70 works by 50 artists encompasses a variety of media, figurative painting, bronze sculpture and documentary photography. Spanning the era from the 1940s to Thatcherite Britain of the 1980s, the selection epitomises a time when we as a nation had a different sense of self, one less defined by television, mass media and digital communications.
Exhibiting Artists: Michael Andrews; Kenneth Armitage; Frank Auerbach; Gerry Badger; Clive Barker; Elinor Bellingham-Smith; John Benton-Harris; Ian Berry; John Bratby; Edward Burra; Anthony Caro; Lynn Chadwick; Robert Colquhoun; Elisabeth Frink; Duncan Grant; Bert Hardy; Anthony Hatwell; David Hepher; Barbara Hepworth; Thurston Hopkins; David Hurn; Bryan Kneale; Margaret Lovell; Alan Lowndes; L.S. Lowry; Henry Moore; Francis Morland; Tish Murtha; John Myers; Paul Nash; Eduardo Paolozzi; Martin Parr; Victor Pasmore; Christine Pearcey; Edwin Pickett; John Piper; Tony Ray-Jones; Alan Reynolds; Brian Robb; William Roberts; George Rodger; Leonard Rosoman; Meg Rutherford; William Scott; Jack Smith; Ruskin Spear; Homer Sykes; William Turnbull; Patrick Ward; Carel Weight; John Wragg; Bryan Wynter.
The Arts Council Collection was formed in 1946 by the Arts Council of Great Britain and has been managed by The Hayward, Southbank Centre since 1987. From the outset, the intention was to support artists living and working in Britain through the purchase and display of their work, and to tour exhibitions across the country thereby encouraging public appreciation of modern and contemporary art, making it the widest circulated collection of its kind. For further information please visit www.artscouncilcollection.org.uk.