There is not praise enough for this superb, unusual and highly original exhibition which is currently being held at the British Museum in London. Combining works from the British Museum’s collection of ancient and historical importance, with the hyper-contemporary artistic musings of infamous cross-dressing artist, Grayson Perry, the British Museum has put on a show which departs radically from its mainstay shows of ancient China, ancient Lebanon, ancient Iran and so on. This utterly inventive exhibition is not only a refreshing change for the British Museum, but also for British contemporary art. For through Grayson Perry we have an artist who does not speak his mind for the sake of being controversial, but who, as a philosopher of our times, makes objective, shrewd and rational observations about the madness of today’s society. And he does so not in a way that is patronising or judgmental, but through works which are accessible, original and imbued with a sophisticated yet unpretentious sense of humour. And thus, amidst the requisite hushed silence of a London gallery, giggles, chuckles and sometimes outright guffaws broke through the air as the attendees of the exhibition relished in the exquisitely imaginative creations of Perry’s show.
So what is the exhibition all about? Well, it basically gives Grayson Perry free reign to indulge in the unhindered realms of his imagination. Perry’s show thus takes the audience on a “pilgrimage” into his imaginary world, a world which revolves around his childhood teddy bear, Alan Measles, as the central protagonist. As the “god” of this imagined reality, the little teddy bear is expressed in a variety of religious personae, from temple keeper to the enshrined teddy as Perry explores themes connected with notions of craftsmanship in faith and sacred journeys – from shamanism, magic and holy relics to motorbikes, identity and contemporary culture. In fact, Perry and his teddy went on their own pilgrimage as a precursor to the exhibition, taking a trip on a wonderful decorated motorbike, complete with it’s own attached temple for Teddy, to Germany, the country which, in Perry’s youthful fantasies, Alan Measles had been at war with, the brave warrior in his turbulent childhood imagination. As the pilgrimage is transposed from physical journey to metaphorical odyssey through the carefully curated exhibition, we are taken through a winding gallery space, fit to bursting with a tempting display of rich glossy potteries and gems of the British Museum collection, extravagant Perry designed tapestries and plentiful shrines to Alan Measles. At its completion, the pilgrim trail concludes at the foot of a richly decorated cast-iron ship, a memorial to all the anonymous individuals that over the centuries have fashioned the handmade wonders of the world.