Grayson Perry muses on his love-hate relationship with America in Hoxton exhibition
PUBLISHED: 15:55 15 September 2020 | UPDATED: 14:59 21 September 2020
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The Islington based artist name-checks Trump, Elvis and Mark Zuckerberg in The MOST Specialest relationship at Victoria Miro Gallery
“If I think of American cultural power, the image that pops into my head is a huge Abstract Expressionist painting, a Cold War symbol of a self-confident land of the free.”
Islington-based artist Grayson Perry exhibits his reflections on ‘The MOST Specialest Relationship’ at Victoria Miro Gallery in Hoxton this month.
Inspired by a motorcycle journey he made for three-part documentary series Grayson Perry’s Big American Roadtrip, the mix of ceramics, tapestry and print name-checks Donald Trump, Elvis and Mark Zuckerberg among others.
Very Large Very Expensive Abstract Painting is “a map of the cultural and social archaeology of Manhattan” in tapestry form.
“In the 1950s the white hot centre of the art world, now a hideously expensive liberal enclave.”
Like cities, it is layered, from a base patchwork of historic rugs, blankets, flags and sacks from the cultures that make up New York; American, African, Asian, European. Overlaid is a Jackson Pollack style abstract painting “a freewheeling gesture of macho cultural dominance,” followed by pasted collage labels laying out “the economic and social forces that maintain the glass floor under the affluent liberal elite.”
In the Channel 4 series, which airs from September 23, Perry straddles a custom-built motorbike and visits different communities from African-American business folk to Wisconsin farmers, to understand how Americans view issues of identity, race, money and class.
In the ceramic American Journey he etches “a roadmap of cultural icons I enjoy” from Elvis to Walt Disney and Ray Charles.
“I adore American culture and love going on road trips through this vast land, preferably on a motorcycle,” he comments.
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‘I Hate The USA I Love The USA’ explores both his own ambivalence for the country, and the polarisation of landscape, politics, lifestyle and beliefs that have been “turbocharged” by the internet.
Among his favourite encounters was with a Manhattan colour consultant and her client.
“When I referred to them as members of the liberal elite the client said he hated that term. I said, ‘yeah, now you know how it feels to have a negative label’.
“The Sacred Beliefs of The Liberal Elite is covered in little phrases that perhaps mock the pieties of his tribe: “Original Ideas are the product of Capitalist Scum!”, “This pot is made using 67 percent ethically sourced ideas”, “Hipsters Unite against conformity”.’
Based on an ancient Persian ceramic, Warhead features both distorted faces of Donald Trump and vessels packed with bodies recalling the infamous 1788 diagram of the slave ship Brookes.
Inevitably both exhibition and documentary explore the cultural and political fault-lines in modern America with Perry commenting that the civil war raging in the States today is the “culture war”.
Ceramic plate ‘Stable Genius’ conflates a previous civil war image of Charles II on horseback with Trump “on horseback, his hat balanced on his impossible hair surrounded by tweeting birds”.
Large print The American Dream “a map of how the Culture War rages online” is in the style of 1950s Cold War propaganda depicting the ‘Communist Threat’.
“The godlike figure at the top is Mark Zuckerburg. I chose him because he is the best known face of social media power. Social media is mainly financed by advertising so those in charge want users to stay online as long as possible. The algorithms make this happen by encouraging conflict and outrage. The red arrows represent this feeding of negative emotion that keeps people scrolling. All the ships, planes and other combatants are labelled with the issues that swirl around this artificially polarised struggle. In the centre is Airforce One colliding with a Russian bomber labelled “Climate Change”. When I made this I thought that was the headline issue, but now I might have made the “Racism” helicopter and the “Black Lives Matter” jet fighter more prominent. Hurricane “Woke” off the East Coast still seems very topical though.”
Grayson Perry The MOST Specialest Relationship runs until October 31 at Victoria Miro in Wharf Road N1. All visitors must book a free timed ticket.
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