You may remember that I visited Bristol Museum and Art Gallery about six years ago to see their death exhibition, and though I was slightly underwhelmed by the permanent collections and disturbed by the glass walled Victorian toilets that meant you got a prime view of your neighbour’s pooping face, I liked the general vibe of the museum and their “pay what you can afford” policy for exhibitions. So, when we were planning on driving down to Bristol to visit my sister-in-law and were looking for something to do until she finished work, I decided to check out what Bristol Museum had on. Imagine my delight when I discovered that the museum is currently hosting the exhibition for Grayson’s Art Club’s second series (I think the first series’ exhibition was in Manchester last year).
If you’re British and you watch TV, you’re probably already familiar with Grayson Perry’s Art Club, but for all my overseas readers, Grayson Perry is a British artist who began hosting a TV programme during the first lockdown in 2020 where he encouraged viewers to submit their own art and short videos explaining the pieces they created. He was joined over Zoom by a different celebrity guest and artist each week who would produce their own art, and they would select a few pieces from the public submissions to ultimately go on view in an exhibition. The first series was so popular that they came back for a second series last year, which is what this exhibition is based on. It runs until 4th September, and pre-booking is strongly encouraged. It is a “pay what you can afford” exhibition, with a minimum suggested donation of £4, but you can absolutely see this exhibition for free if you wish.
Upon arrival, we were handed an exhibition trail map, which was super useful because of the way the exhibition was set up. There were larger displays inside three of the museum’s galleries, but there were also pieces spread out throughout the museum, mixed in with the permanent collections, which made this really fun to explore, a bit like a scavenger hunt. We went the opposite way the numbering system wanted us to and started downstairs, with the gallery dedicated to family and food, two of the themes from the programme (there was a different theme each week).
The art on display was a mix of pieces by Grayson and his wife Philippa (I would argue there were too many pieces by Philippa, but I guess those are the benefits of being married to the person doing the programme), celebrity pieces, and pieces by members of the public, which did seem to make up the bulk of the exhibition. The family theme was one of the most emotional of the exhibition, particularly the pieces by Becky Tyler, who I remembered from the TV show. Becky is disabled, and relies on a computer to communicate. However, she has a special computer programme that allows her to paint pictures with her eyes based on where she looks at the screen, and they’re really incredible. She did the picture above left, which “depicts the dreams and opportunities waiting beyond the gates of [her] disability”, and she also did the portrait of Grayson Perry under the first paragraph of this post, which is also the picture used on all the exhibition publicity. I also loved the joke alphabet (next to Becky’s portrait of Grayson), done by a pair of siblings whose father was known for knowing a joke for every letter of the alphabet (their father passed away last year). If you zoom in on the picture, you’ll probably be able to read a few, but they were classic dad jokes.
On the celebrity side of things, we regularly watch Taskmaster, so we were excited to see pieces by a lot of the artier participants, including Johnny Vegas, Noel Fielding, and even Alex Horne. We both really liked the chicken shop painting that Mawaan Rizwan submitted for one of the prize tasks, so we were glad to see another one here in the food section, with another hilarious name (I love an unintentionally funny restaurant name, and my friend and I keep an running list. One of our current favourites is Aftertaste, a Chinese restaurant in Elephant and Castle). I also loved the hospital room made from felted objects (sadly, I forgot to get a photo of the artist’s name). Yes, all those pill boxes were made from felt! Really incredible.
And you know I love a good mannequin, so I had to throw in a photo of the first date scene made by an Italian restaurant when they were closed during lockdown, complete with fake pizzas. The painting on the left is of the artist’s husband falling asleep over breakfast in bed (the caption didn’t say that he was ill or anything, just sleepy).
There was another small gallery upstairs dedicated to the theme of work, which included some tiles by Philippa, mock Staffordshire figurines by Grayson depicting a Deliveroo driver and a home worker (with her cat), a creepy Morris man outfit made from a Hazmat suit, and the above two pieces, Sisyphus Works the Night Shift and the heads of a group of rather frightening looking schoolkids (the artist said the bully character exploded in the kiln, but most of the other ones still look like bullies to me. I’d run if I saw them coming, let’s put it that way).
We found a gallery on yet another floor (the museum has a surprising number of floors and subfloors, which again, really added to the scavenger hunt feel) with art that seemed to be primarily travel inspired, though it also contained the adorable Norman by comedian and occasional potter Johnny Vegas (above right), his depiction of a boy he used to see in a park who seemed to be having a tough time, and reminded Johnny of himself when he was young.
The rest of the pieces were far more scattered and mingled with the permanent collections. The trail map guides you to roughly the right location, but you still have to keep your eyes peeled! I loved the monster hidden in a display case full of taxidermy, and he was apparently hidden in real life as well – the artist created him as part of a monster hunt for children, where a load of monsters were hidden in a local wood (I would have loved to take part in that!). There was also the crocheted hamburger hidden in a case full of pottery, and the tiger at the start of the post sitting at the foot of a dinosaur.
Fun as the Grayson Perry exhibition was, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the netsuke exhibition also at the museum, which runs until June and is free to visit. I honestly mainly know about netsuke from Bob’s Burgers (of course I’ve seen pieces at museums over the years, but I didn’t give them much thought until that episode of Bob’s), and I love anything miniature, so I was pretty excited to check them out. As is fitting, given their diminutive size, the display is also tiny, but they crammed quite a few pieces in with information about the mythology behind each. It was very interesting and I enjoyed studying them all, helped by the fact that the museum was fairly empty. Something like this would have been a nightmare at somewhere like the V&A!
As you can probably tell, I really enjoyed my visit to Bristol Museum this time around. I honestly even got a kick out of the toilets – I’d been thinking a lot about how weird they were in the intervening years, and was bizarrely excited to see them again. Highly recommend going to see the Grayson Perry exhibition before it finishes if you can. 4/5. I’d also advise walking down about half a mile from the museum to Harbourside to see Mr. Cary Grant, in statue form, which I finally did on this visit. And if you’re into falafel, I can also wholeheartedly recommend Baba Ghanoush Jerusalem Falafel. Super cheap and amazing food! I feel like we’ll be back to Bristol sooner rather than later.