This exhibition presents Grayson Perry’s largest single body of work to date, a series of tapestries entitled The Vanity of Small Differences.
British artist Grayson Perry (born in 1960) uses traditional media such as tapestry, ceramic, and print-making to explore his fascination with contemporary social issues and the often provocative topics of religion, sex, gender, politics, class and identity. In 2003 Perry won the Turner Prize, the most prestigious contemporary art award in the UK. He collected the award dressed as a woman, his alter ego “Claire”, in order to demonstrate his interest in identity, which is also found in his art. Since then he has become a loved and popular figure who presents television programmes and radio shows alongside his visual arts practice, speaking openly and frankly about the value of art in society.
Tapestry is an art form historically often used to decorate the homes of aristocratic families with religious, military or mythical scenes, so Perry plays with the status of tapestry by using it to depict everyday scenarios and characters. The artist’s works are rich in both content and colour, incorporating autobiographical references as well as mapping contemporary British society.
The six tapestries tell a story of 21st century social mobility in the UK through the life of Tim Rakewell, a fictional character created by Grayson Perry. Tim is born into a working class family but rises to middle class status by going to university, making money and marrying into a richer family. He then experiences the financial burdens of the upper classes and tragically dies in a car accident. By creating Tim, Perry is playfully mirroring the 18th-century English artist William Hogarth’s series of paintings, A Rake's Progress, that show the rise and fall of a character called Tom Rakewell.
The tapestries were inspired by Perry’s trips to three regions in England where he met different groups considered to be working class, middle class and upper class. His interviews, photographs, notes and sketchbook drawings of his journey helped him to investigate the tastes of different social circles. The artist's journeys through Sunderland, Tunbridge Wells and The Cotswolds in England were documented in the television series All in the Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry, which was first aired on Channel 4 in June 2012.
The Vanity of Small Differences is jointly owned by the British Council Collection and the Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London. 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 Alix Partners.
Download the education pack
The British Council has created an education pack for teachers, gallery education staff and other educators. It introduces the work of artist Grayson Perry and explores the tapestry series through different themes in the work, offering ideas for educational projects and activities.
The Arts Council Collection is responsible for the UK tour of the tapestries and the British Council looks after its international tour. The Vanity of Small Differences began its national and international tour at the Sunderland Museum and Winter Garden in June 2013, which is where Perry set the first two tapestries, The Adoration of the Cage Fighters and The Agony in the Car Park.
The Arts Council Collection launched an app for iPad and iPhone produced by Aimer Media with commentary from the artist, art historical references and a guide to the making of the works. The app gives audiences the chance to see the tapestries up close with its detailed zoom facility and listen to Perry's own audio guide. Grayson Perry: The Vanity of Small Differences is available on the App Store.
The exhibition is accompanied by postcard set and booklet, published by the British Council. You can purchase a copy from Cornerhouse Publications.