#76 Grayson Perry’s Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman
What if you could rummage around the British Museum and make a gallery devoted to your favourite pieces, from all times and places around the world? This is what Grayson Perry’s been lucky enough to do. His ‘Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman’ exhibition at the British Museum is a salute to all the unknown artisans who laboured through the centuries to create the works enshrined within it.
As such, this isn’t an ethnographical or political collection, but an aesthetic one. Perry’s choices emphasise the whimsical, witty, striking and personal over the state-sponsored or epic. Parallels are drawn between cultures thousands of years apart – a prehistoric bull squats near an intricate Chinese wall-hanging; a buddhist holy relic is near an etching of 18th-Century France’s most famous transvestite. And for once, the explanatory text (by Perry) is funny, sweet and enlightening. If only all po-faced exposition could be exchanged for this. Who knows? People might actually read it.
Perry’s own work sits between some of the exhibits. A lot of the pieces are elaborate shrines or art for his teddy bear/best friend/culture hero Alan Measles. (It’s impossible to hate anyone with a teddy bear called Alan Measles. Try it and see.) His detailed and hilarious ceramics seem to be placing themselves in a tradition, rather than repudiating it – building on the past (not without a critical and moral eye) rather than tearing it down. It’s a liberating and frankly joyful way to see some dusty old exhibits through new eyes. On till 19 Feb, this one.