QUIRKY tapestries by Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry, which include two Sunderland scenes, are going on tour and – in a coup for the region – we’ll see them first.
Sunderland museum bosses are delighted the city has been picked to showcase the six tapestries, called The Vanity of Small Differences, at the launch of their first international tour.
The news follows the gift of the work by the artist – a transvestite potter who made headlines in 2003 when he collected his Turner Prize dressed (in lilac frock) as his alter ego Claire – to the Arts Council Collection and British Council which share ownership (a first for them) and want as many people as possible to see them.
The tapestries, referencing taste and class in scenes woven from wool, cotton and silk, are well-known as they had their origins in the three-part C4 series All In the Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry which saw him investigate social backgrounds and brought him to Sunderland where, he dressed (literally: in a short black number, with high heels and big hair) to impress for a night out on the town.
So the chance to see first-hand the elaborate scenes inspired by his visit is bound to be a crowd-puller when the work goes on show in the city as part of the Festival of the North East next June.
“It will definitely be a highlight of the festival,” says Jo Cunningham, manager of Sunderland Museums.
“The fact the tapestries will be accessible to the very people who inspired the work is fantastic and we’re excited to find out how our visitors will respond to them.”
Perry’s gift was made possible thanks to support from various bodies including Victoria Miro Gallery in London, the only venue where the work has been displayed, and the artist says it’s thanks to such support that his tapestries now have a chance to reach a “very wide and varied audience” by travelling across the country and the world.
“I am hugely pleased and proud,” he said.
“Of all the pieces I have made, this was the one I conceived from the outset as a public artwork.
“I hope that wherever it goes it not only delights the eye but also sparks debate about class, taste and British society.”
The series – offering a modern take on William Hogarth’s 18th Century paintings A Rake’s Progress which features a working class man’s rise (and fall) from obscurity to greatness – certainly has plenty to say about society and class mobility.
The two Sunderland tapestries are entitled The Agony in the Car Park – which features plenty of red and white and musical references including the Futureheads – and The Adoration of the Cage Fighters, a work dominated by sassy girls dressed to the nines while an apparently disgruntled young mum sits at home with a mobile phone.
Perry found further inspiration for his characters and depicted incidents on journeys through Tunbridge Wells and The Cotswolds and his complete The Vanity of Small Differences series will reveal all when it start its tour at Sunderland Museum and Winter Garden in June 2013.
Jo added: “We are delighted to be chosen as the first venue on the UK tour – a huge thank you to the artist, the Arts Council, British Council and partners.”
Coun John Kelly, Sunderland City Council’s portfolio holder for public health, wellness and culture, added: “The opportunity to see great art in familiar surroundings together with the fact that something of this city’s people and character has been captured by Grayson Perry whose work is being acquired for the nation is really very special.”