London: Grayson Perry’s “The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!” @ the Serpentine + A Few Random Art Exhibitions

Whew, that’s a long title, isn’t it?  I have more Dorset posts, but this post covers a couple exhibitions that are ending in the near future, so I wanted to get to them first while there’s still a chance to visit them if people are interested. I recently went to go see Grayson Perry’s new exhibition at the Serpentine, and used it as an opportunity to do a whole day of arty stuff around London (I might have gotten an ice cream and a bubble tea too. It was a hot day, and I needed the energy!). I’ll talk about Perry’s exhibition first, and get to the rest later.


I first encountered Grayson Perry when he was a panellist on Have I Got News for You way back in 2009, when he appeared as his alter-ego “Claire.” Not being up on the modern art scene, I’d never heard of him before, and I didn’t know quite what to make of him. But then I finally saw some of his art: tapestries at the Foundling Museum back in 2014, and I had to admit that they were really pretty cool. I’ve since been to a couple more of his exhibitions, and watched a few of his TV specials, and now I’d definitely consider myself a fan – after watching his recent TV programme about Brexit, where he made vases representing “Leave” and “Remain,” Marcus and I were keen to see the vases in person, so when we learned they’d be at the Serpentine, in Hyde Park, along with some other select pieces, we headed out to see the exhibition about a week after it opened.


“The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!” runs until the 10 September, and is free, although there is an opportunity to donate via a piggy bank Perry created with different slots to represent different identities – you could choose the slot you felt best represented you.  Although I’ve of course been to Hyde Park before, I’d never actually been inside the Serpentine Gallery, and I’m glad I managed to visit on a weekday, because I bet this exhibition lives up to its self-consciously grandiose title by being absolutely rammed on the weekends. As it was, it was plenty busy on a weekday, though not to the point where we had to queue or anything.


Perry’s chosen media are typically ceramic pots and tapestries, and there were plenty of both in here. What I particularly love about his work is how detailed it is – he often uses collages, and you really have to walk completely around each of his pieces to appreciate every element.  There’s often a fair bit of text incorporated within the pieces as well, which I can appreciate as someone who’s generally drawn more towards books than art.


But there were also a few other types of art in this exhibit, my favourites being the custom designed motorcycle with a special box for Perry’s teddy, Alan Measles, in the back (Alan Measles is a recurring motif in Perry’s art), and the “Marriage Shrine” with figures of Perry and his wife. I’d love something like that in my house (or garden, if I had one)!

I also had to laugh at the “Kateboard,” above, which is a skateboard deck with an image of Kate Middleton on it, and there were some excellent woodcuts, including the one pictured at the opening of the post, which features Perry himself.


And the Brexit vases (above) were of course excellent, though my favourite vase was actually the first one in this post, showing Trump, Farage, Theresa May, Boris, Corbyn, et al all worshiping Alan Measles.  But I really enjoyed almost every piece in this exhibition, which is a rarity for me and modern art, as you all know. It’s certainly very timely (it actually opened on the day of the general election, which was an exciting one for me as it was the first election since I’ve become a British citizen, so I actually got to vote! Not that it did much good in decidedly Tory Wimbledon, but still), and I highly recommend going to see it if you get the chance. 4.5/5.


We went to see two other exhibitions the same day, both of them at art galleries (and as gallery installations are so fleeting, I’m not going to bother to give them a rating). I normally shy away from galleries because I’m slightly intimidated by them; it seems like whenever I walk into one, there’s just some harried person talking on the phone at the back of the gallery who completely ignores my presence, and I feel really unwelcome. But I saw these listed in Time Out London, and I was intrigued enough to take a chance (albeit with Marcus for backup; I’m still too intimidated to do it on my own).


The first was Ann Craven’s Animals 1999-2017, at Southard Reid in Soho, which ends on 24 June.  This was a collection of animal paintings inspired by Youtube and memes and things. I can’t really complain about adorable paintings of kittens and deer, so I enjoyed it, even though the woman working there was indeed on the phone when we walked in, and we felt pretty awkward the whole time we were there. The gallery is also hidden down some pretentiously named “Royalty Mews” off of Dean Street that we accidentally walked right past the first time around, which made the experience that much more awkward, because it wasn’t the kind of place you could pop in whilst passing – you had to actively seek it out.


The other exhibition was Wayne Thiebaud’s retrospective 1962-2017 at White Cube Mason’s Yard, near Green Park, which ends 2 July and was poshly intimidating enough that I was worried about walking in wearing shorts and a tank top, with all my tattoos exposed. But except for the stern looking security guard in one of the galleries, it was fine. I wanted to see this one because I read that most of his paintings were of desserts, and indeed, food and landscapes were pretty much the themes.


I did like some of his paintings (particularly those of ice cream and doughnuts), and the layered paint effect was kind of cool, but I’m still not really enough of a fan of the gallery experience to be won over to doing this sort of thing very frequently in the future.


The last “arty” experience I wanted to mention, while I’m on the subject, was something I did a couple of weeks ago. It was part of the Merge Festival in Bankside, which seems to have been held quite early this year for some reason (I think it’s normally in September). I saw (in Time Out, yet again, because I’ve been reading the print edition every week lately on the train) that there was an opportunity to have your portrait drawn by a robot for free, if you booked a slot in advance, and for once I managed to book while there were still openings.

The actual name of the event was “Machine Studies” by Patrick Tresset, and what he’d done was create three robot arms that drew three separate pictures of you while you sat still and posed, as you would for a conventional portrait. This meant sitting perfectly still for over half an hour, which I realised I am incredibly bad at. An eyelash fell into my eye only about ten minutes in, and though I tried my best to blink it out, I eventually just had to rub my eye, which I think is why my one eye is blurry in some of the portraits. You can see the finished drawings above, and I think they’re quite cool, even with the wonky eye. If you’re familiar with (were traumatised by as a child, more like) the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books, Stephen Gammell’s illustrations are what I think the middle portrait looks like. I’m kind of like the girl who had a spider lay eggs in her face without her realising until all the spider babies exploded out. (Link here, but don’t click unless you want to be kind of grossed out. And bear in mind, these books were intended for children, and this is definitely one of the less scary drawings in them. No wonder I was so nightmare-prone.) You had a choice of buying your portraits for something like 150 quid each, or leaving them there to be part of the exhibition, so you can probably guess which I chose. At least I was able to get a few good photos of them first though!  And it was definitely a neat experience, though somewhat marred by the fact that the London Bridge attack occurred the same night, not very far from where the installation was located (though fortunately I’d been home for hours before it happened) – as a result, it was closed on what would have been its final day (and now there’s been the Grenfell Tower fire, and the Finsbury Park attack. London’s having a tough time of it lately).

Anyway, that’s it for the artistic interlude; I’ll carry on with more Dorset museums next week.





  1. I have to say, right off the bat, I’m so happy you went to the Wayne Thiebaud exhibit – he was my dad’s art teacher in college! Apparently, he gave my dad an “A” on a painting he did (which I have a hard time wrapping my head around because my Dad’s the least artsy person I know) and is, in general, just a great guy, so I’ve kinda inherited a soft spot for him. Plus, the whole dessert theme he has going.
    I love the robot portraits of you – they’re quite lovely. And I’m grateful for the introduction to Grayson Perry. Like you, I’m generally not one for modern art but I really enjoyed the pieces you posted here – especially the ones done in a fun, Day of the Dead-esque style. Now I’ll have to look up some of his shows.

    1. Oh wow, I’d never even heard of Wayne Thiebaud before this exhibition, so it’s weird you have a personal connection to him! I’m glad to hear he’s a nice guy in real life. I am also terrible at art, and got pretty much solid “C’s” in art classes, so an unexpected “A” would have made my day too!
      Thank you! I like them too. I was actually kind of contemplating going back the next day to buy one, but then it got closed down so I missed the opportunity.
      And Grayson Perry is genuinely a pretty interesting guy. He comes across as fairly likeable on TV, and I do love most of his work! They were selling t-shirts with the one skeleton guy from the Gay Black Cats piece, and Marcus got one. Actually, they were selling limited edition replicas of Gay Black Cats itself, but they were 1100 pounds, and 25 quid for a t-shirt seemed far more doable!

    1. I think the point of Ann Craven’s animal paintings is that they’re meant to be a commentary on how people use cute animal videos as escapism, but yeah, that’s not super obvious, and they are a bit twee. I quite like them though.

  2. I’m sorry I haven’t been by and commented lately but i have been glancing at the posts and you have been some really interesting places!
    I love Grayson Perry, I think his writings on Default Man are terrific. I loved his Unpopular Culture selection from the British Council’s collections that toured the country a few years back – you can still get the book if you’re interested. I occasionally look at it and shake my head in amazement at how different the art in there is from what we normally see.It reflects ‘real’ life. I’m glad you have done the show for me as I doubt I will make it to the Serpentine – and I love the robot drawings! I think the rubbed eye is an added artistic touch. Everyone will notice it!
    What a shame about voting for the first time – my new-ish British/American citizen husband was miserable that his first vote was to remain in the EU – ‘this isn’t what I became a citizen for,’ he said. Definitely a remoaner. Sigh.
    Thanks again. I’m working up to the lawnmower museum (remember that?) still…

    1. Thanks! I’ll have to check out some of Grayson Perry’s writing one of these days!
      Actually, it was the referendum result that pushed me into getting citizenship. Not because I was happy with the result (quite the opposite), but because I’d had ILR for a while, and was biding my time until I could afford the citizenship fee, but then the referendum happened and I got panicky that the immigration rules could change again and I’d get booted out, so I scraped up the money somehow and did it anyway. I also wanted to make sure that I would get a vote the next time something like that came along!
      I never did make it to the lawnmower museum, but would maybe try again if I was in the area and it wasn’t a bank holiday weekend.

  3. Cool! I am totally unfamiliar with Grayson Perry and his work looks wonderful! Thank you for introducing me to a new artists — and I didn’t even see any pickled body parts or other grotesques in there!

    1. Nope, no pickled body parts, but Grayson Perry does use a lot of skulls and skeletons (though they’re kind of cheery looking Dia de los Muertos-esque ones), and you might notice one of his own, um, “parts” in one of the woodcuts. Hope that doesn’t put you off!

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