As his latest show - The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! - opens at London’s Serpentine, we asked the man responsible for whacking great tapestries and glazed ceramic cocks to explain what art is. Turns out, the answer is fairly simple.
Grayson Perry. Portrait, 2017 Photograph © Thierry Bal
We like Grayson Perry, don't we? He makes whacking great tapestries exploring class and identity. Giant cocks inspired by the financial sector. Acclaimed television shows exploring how notions of masculinity shape the lives of men. He makes art, not for art's sake, but for heart's sake, man: living, pulsating, conversation provoking art that taps into what it means to be an actual human being living in actual human Britain today.
For his latest exhibition -- the fantastically titled Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!-- the former Turner Prize winner explores ideas of popularity and populism, his As Seen On TV Brexit pots forming the centrepiece of a Serpentine show that questions what sort of art people like and why on earth they go to see it in the first place. It's big, it's bold, it's sponsored by Mulberry. Oh, and if that wasn't enough there's even a nice couple of Grayson Perry and Johnny Coca designed handbags to go with it (I know, right?).
"Grayson's work is intrinsically British and his fusion of traditional craftsmanship and techniques, with a modern point of view is a juxtaposition that resonates strongly with Mulberry," says Mulberry Head Honcho Johnny Coca in a strongly worded press release. "There is a true connection between fashion and art." Is that right, Johnny? Sounds like you've just given us a good idea for a question…
Hello Grayson Perry! What is art?
Art is what artists do.
What is good art?
Good art is art that a certain group of people agree that is good.
So is fashion art. Yes?
Some fashion is art! I wouldn't say all of it was. I went to Central Saint Martins fashion show the other day and, you know, that's pretty art. But not all fashion is art, no. A lot of the high street stuff is just clothes.
Does something have to have aesthetic qualities to be art?
I would say that is one of the defining characteristics. I think that anybody who just thinks calling something "art" is enough these days is mistaken, because it's kind of done, you know? A good conceptual artist is someone that has ideas that are kind of poetically layered and interesting. They're not just ideas. A good idea doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be good art.
What are the most important things happening in art today?
I think the most important thing is probably expansion, in that it's much more globalised now. It's much more diverse. You find it in lots of different places, made by lots of different people being looked at by people you wouldn't necessarily think of as an "art audience". That perhaps is what's happened to art. It's kind of exploded and the glittery pixie dust of art is falling wide like shrapnel all over the world.
Are there any forms of art that aren't being recognised by the academic world?
I think the academic world probably falls over itself to find niches that they can write PHDs on so there probably isn't. I always think of the art world as a huge trawler, trawling the bed of the art ocean, looking for that last fish that is still managing to survive. There's always as many curators and writers and commentators on art as there are artists, so the idea that there'd be a bit of art that would be unrecognised is probably unlikely. Tattooists, custom bike builders, fashionistas, street dancers… They've all had their day in the headlights of art.
Is any art priceless?
Well, that's interesting because the minute you kind of donate something to a private collection, they all become worth the same thing. They're held for the nation or whatever. So all the art you see in museums is, to a certain extent, literally priceless because it's not going to be sold... Hopefully.
Should the taxpayer be forced to play for art that they don't necessarily like?
Well, I think if you counted it up, I bet they pay a lot less for art they don't like than weapons they don't agree with. So, I would say on the balance of things, we're paying more things we don't like than you are!
Can art ever be obsolete?
I think that how we view art changes over time, in that we don't look at a Renaissance painting in the same way as a Renaissance person looked at it. I think the thing is that the bad art of any particular period will fall away and the good art will kind of linger. It goes through the filter of appreciation over the centuries and each time perhaps a little bit of art drops off for not being that good. So when we go to see a collection of Old Masters, all the bad ones have been put in the back room or thrown away or hung in a toilet in some castle somewhere. That's the obsolete art!
The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! is at London's Serpentine Gallery until 10 September. You can cop one of the two very bespoke Mulberry Amberley bags now.
Text Matthew Whitehouse