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Grayson Perry: Vanity of Small Differences at The Exchange

Grayson Perry: Vanity of Small Differences has opened this week at the Exchange in Penzance. The tapestries were created through Perry’s Bafta-winning documentary series All in the Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry broadcast in 2012 by Channel 4. Throughout the programme Perry visited places across the UK including Sunderland, Tunbridge Wells and the Cotswolds to explore the taste of the social groups we encountered and these tapestries were born out of his experiences and findings.

The works are now on tour of the UK supported by the Art Fund and Sfumato Foundation, and are at the Exchange until 2nd January 2021. The exhibition showcases 6 large tapestries, each designed by Perry. They are a modern retelling of Hogarth’s A Rakes Progress, and we follow Tim Rakewell and his progress from working-class boy to a computer software millionaire. The pieces often incorporated themes and images from historical art. ‘The vanity of small differences’ is a Freudian term which means that we dislike no one quite so much as our nearest neighbour. It is suggested that this idea is a crucial part of our modern consumer culture: we buy things believing that we are expressing our uniqueness, but in fact we are adhering to a set of norms set out by our social class

“The tapestries tell the story of class mobility, for I think nothing has as strong an influence on our aesthetic taste as the social class in which we grew up. I am interested in the politics of consumerism and the story of popular design but, for this project, I focus on the emotional investment we make in the things we choose to live with, east read or drive. Class and taste run deep in our character – we care. This emotional charge is what draws met to a subject” – Grayson Perry

The first piece is the Adoration of the Cage Fighter. The scene is Tim’s great-grandmother’s front room. The infant Tim reaches for his mother’s smartphone – his rival for her attention. She is dressed up, ready for a night out with her friends. Two ‘Mixed Martial Arts’ enthusiasts present icons to the infant of a Sunderland A.F.C. shirt and a miner’s lamp. In the style of easily Christian painting Tim appears a second time in the work, on the stairs as a four-year-old, facing another evening alone in front of a screen. When creating the work, Perry was inspired by the 15th Century Italian artist Andrea Mantegna’s biblical painting The Adoration of the Shepherds, and you can clearly see this influence when comparing the pieces.

As you move through the exhibition you follow Tim’s journey as he grows up. The next tapestries, The Agony in the Car Park and Expulsion from Number 8 Eden Close, depict Tim’s childhood and university years as he leaves the family home. We next join him when he is a successful business man, The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal, surrounded by the trappings this new wealth has bought. The final two pieces depict Tim’s later years, The Upper Class at Bay or an endangered species bought down, and final dramatic death, #Lamentation.

During our visit we were captivated by the detail of the pieces. Each time you looked, you discovered a new detail that you had missed before, from the Paradise Lost book hiding in the arms of the subject in Expulsion from Number 8 Eden Close or the discarded Hello Magazine in #Lamentation. Various cultural icons are present throughout including Jamie Oliver, Cath Kidston, and cans of Red Bull.

The images we have included don’t manage to convey the scale or textural detail in the tapestries, so we would highly recommend visiting the Exchange to experience them yourself.

Images: Grayson Perry, 2012, Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre London and British Council © the artist. Gift of the artist and Victoria Miro Gallery with the support of Channel 4 Television, the Art Fund and Sfumato Foundation with additional support from AlixPartners.

Newlyn Art Gallery & The Exchange

Newlyn Art Gallery & The Exchange offers a wide and varied exhibition programme across our two sites, presenting contemporary work in all media by regional, national and international artists, with a supporting programme of events.

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Bethany is often happiest watching one of Cornwall’s brilliant theatre companies. She also loves festivals, coastal walks, and exploring Cornish history and heritage.