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Grayson Perry at The Walker

Six stunning tapestries explore taste and class in modern Britain.

Six spectacular tapestries by Turner Prize winning artist (2003), Grayson Perry, tell an epic tale of human nature and social constructs in a new exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery this summer.

Launching as part of LightNight, Liverpool’s one night arts and culture festival, The Vanity of Small Differences goes on display from the evening of 16 May to 10 August 2014.

The Vanity of Small Differences is part of National Museums Liverpool’s Modern Masters series, part funded by the European Union – the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

Perry designed the tapestries as part of a series he made with Channel 4 in 2012, called All in the Best Possible Taste. In the television series Perry went: “on a safari amongst the taste tribes of Britain” (Perry), investigating the tastes of the working class in Sunderland, middle class in Tunbridge Wells and upper class in the Cotswolds.

The fascinating observations Perry made on his journey provide a compelling, snap-shot of modern Britain. Middle class angst, ‘old money’ snobbery and a community shattered by job losses and industrial decline all come under Perry’s scrutiny. Ordinary objects from a football kit, celebrity chef cookbook and Cath Kidston shopping bag, take on new symbolism and provide a rich visual language.

Perry also examines the idea of social mobility between the classes. The tapestries are a modern evocation of A Rake’s Progress, the series of paintings by 18th century artist William Hogarth.

Like Hogarth’s character, Tom Rakewell, Perry’s fictional hero, Tim Rakewell, comes from working class origins, marries into the middle class, makes enough money to buy himself an upper class lifestyle and then dies a tragic death.

Vivid colours, remarkable textures, contrasting patterns and an intriguing commentary which winds through each scene, build a complete picture of the tragic rise and fall of an ordinary man, which “not only delights the eye but also sparks debate about class, taste and British society” (Perry).

The Adoration of the Cage Fighters 2012
The Adoration of the Cage Fighters 2012

Layered on top of this exploration of class and taste, Perry includes visual references to a number of Renaissance paintings in each of the tapestries, creating a timeless quality and the sense of an enduring human condition.

Curator of Costume and Textiles, Pauline Rushton said: “Their extraordinary detail, colour and texture are captivating. Traditionally tapestries would tell stories or evoke historic events. Grayson’s tapestries are just as epic, packed with notions of society, symbolism and references to art history, religion and literature.”

Director of Art Galleries, Sandra Penketh said:  “We are very excited to be showing these incredible tapestries. Grayson’s fascination in the subtle rules society is governed by is accompanied by a keen eye for detail and a wonderful sense of humour.

“The Walker’s own rich collection of medieval and Renaissance art, as well as our commitment to show the very best contemporary art, make it the perfect venue for the tapestries. We’re grateful to our partners for helping us bring this important artwork by an international artist to Liverpool.”

The Walker Art Gallery is the third venue outside London to be showing Grayson Perry’sThe Vanity of Small Differences. The UK tour of the tapestries and the joint acquisition of the work by the Arts Council Collection and the British Council has been made possible thanks to a significant act of philanthropy on behalf of the artist and a number of partners involved. 

The Arts Council Collection and the British Council Collection work to maximise opportunities for British artists and arts institutions in the UK and overseas, and this collaboration gives the widest possible audience a chance to see this important work.

Jill Constantine, Acting Head, Arts Council Collection said: “The Vanity of Small Difference has attracted huge public interest and we’re delighted that the people of Liverpool will now have the opportunity to see these extraordinary tapestries for themselves”.