Super Rich Interior Decoration
Super Rich Interior Decoration

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Super Rich Interior Decoration

How do you top ‘The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!’? (Serpentine Gallery, 2017). Especially when it’s a commercial show at Victoria Miro Gallery in Mayfair. Throwing his focus onto shopping and art collecting - looking around, “at all of these shops within a handbags throw of the gallery,” Grayson Perry admits that there is a tension to the show, after all he has benefitted greatly from the largesse of collectors. One of his vases shown at the Turner Prize in 2003, listed a plethora of art collectors - and one of them gratefully bought the work. As always there is huge affection for all of the characters he depicts and perhaps a sense of ‘if you can’t fight them, join them’ - where even his alter-ego Claire becomes an homage to the well-coiffed ladies of Mayfair, shopping in Celine…

Grayson also had an idea for a carpet but admits that it took him six months to get up the gumption to put a homeless person on a carpet. “It’s a kind of dare to the collector,” admits Grayson, “would you have this in your house, next to your Jeff Koons?”

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Installation view, Super Rich Interior Decoration - Victoria Miro Mayfair, 14 St George Street, London W1S 1FE
25 September – 20 December 2019 © Grayson Perry - Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London/Venice

Grayson singled out two works that seem to personify the show best; a table lamp and a rug – Super Rich Interior Decoration – berating interior decorators for one of the sacrileges of the ceramics world, turning vases into lamps… The table- lamp is called Money on Holiday which is about tax havens and is decorated with photographs of rich people by Martin Parr. Grayson also had an idea for a carpet but admits that it took him six months to get up the gumption to put a homeless person on a carpet. “It’s a kind of dare to the collector,” admits Grayson, “would you have this in your house, next to your Jeff Koons?” When he made the work, Grayson was looking at tribal Afghan rugs from the past ten years, depicting Kalashnikovs, tanks, grenades and helicopters. Grayson’s rug Don’t Look Down depicts a homeless person lying on the floor in sleeping bag – surrounded by images of flats and houses – literally bringing the outside in. Perhaps no less explosive than an Afghan rug.

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Grayson Perry Shopping for Meaning 2019 (Glazed Ceramic)

Grayson took a group of art, design and interiors journalists for a preview of his show – I spotted the editor of House & Garden among us, sheltering from the rain with her daughter’s pink unicorn umbrella. “Us Liberal Elite’ said Grayson, making us feel simultaneously thrilled to be in Grayson’s gang but also slightly uncomfortable, “love to point at the super rich people but the top 20% of well-educated, media-savvy, metropolitan, stylish people are pulling away from the rest of the country – this is happening in most western countries now. We can point at the 1% to pay more tax but also we are part of the problem.”

Many of the works in the show are about art collectors; their homes, their lives and their interior design. From visiting houses and looking online, Grayson noticed that, “they always had a big abstract painting – as a statementy thing – it wasn’t too kind of labelling.” This instantly provided the title for his next tapestry, which was created as both an homage and pastiche of a Large, Expensive Abstract Painting (see image above). Carpets and paint colours provided the starting point for the work, with a collage of different types of carpet and then wall paint applied using photoshop. Overlaid is a map of London, which Grayson now considers to be the spiritual home of the super-rich, and as the Thames meanders across the tapestry, Grayson attached labels to it about the 1% or, “the dream-hoarders.”

Floating across the show are ghostly residents of London from the 70s and 80s, the Grand Dames of Society such as Raine Spencer and Bubbles Rothermere, “posh people from the olden days, who had colonial roots to their money,” who pop up on a 'traditional African pot.'

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Grayson Perry with 'traditional African pot.'

Floating across the show are ghostly residents of London from the 70s and 80s, the Grand Dames of Society such as Raine Spencer and Bubbles Rothermere, “posh people from the olden days, who had colonial roots to their money” who pop up on a traditional African pot, to the contemporary Thin Woman with Painting, which highlights that body size is also part of the class divide – with decorative, thin women depicted alongside works of art, in rich collectors houses.

Having googled his rich cast of characters, Grayson admits that he came late to Instagram but is increasingly fascinated by Instagram culture – although he loves twitter – and describes the tone of Instagram, as much more earnest… “A lot of these photos I got off these copyright-free websites of people earnestly showing off their beautiful lifestyles. All these people wanting to be individuals, expressing their individuality but globally they all look the same.”

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"Liberal Elite Guilt" acting as a brake on Alan Measle's and Claire's sportscar, as they drive through Silicon Valley...

Grayson considers one of the signifying emotions of the liberal elite to be guilt and follows his altar-egos Alan Measles and Claire driving through Silicon Valley, admiring their red sportscar with its spectacular engine – whilst driving past the Apple building (and in Grayson’s view one of the major tax avoiders). Sponsored by you highlights just how many museum shows are sponsored by corporate companies, Grayson implies that we are all complicit – the brakes on the car are labelled ‘guilt’ – but no one applies these very often…

Grayson goes onto argue that everything we buy signifies our class and status, such as the uniform of the well-to-do that he spotted in America, where everyone jogged past him in their athleisure wear of black and grey – and suggests that we are now in a post-materialist, post-consumerist world where what we buy, gives us status around our virtue – for example, when people get out their reusable water bottle from their tote bag, with a rolled up yoga mat in it, to show that they are a virtuous person. To invite us to be part of a more virtuous, ‘Gwyneth Paltrow’ world, Grayson has even designed a £95 yoga mat

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As an homage to the ‘handbag ladies’ of Mayfair, Grayson has also created his own range of limited-edition handbags with Osprey, with a customised lining dedicated to the shy tory (or secret tory) – “private school for my kids, house prices up – hurrah!” Grayson describes “all the kind of things you might talk about in those restaurants where they give you a stool to put your handbag on… “, and we all nod, as if we too are part of this world. He goes onto talk about the desirability of the handbags which are £1800 each, “in ten colourways. You have to twist his nob to open the bag – there’s a metaphor in there somewhere… I think they are very desirable.”

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Limited-edition handbags for Osprey by Grayson Perry

It's tempting to imagine that the glossy handbags and yoga mats are all part of an elaborate hoax to infuriate art theorists and critics, while Grayson maintains that critical art theory is just another way of adding value to art. ‘Vote Tory’ is Grayson’s ‘vaguely right-of-centre’ piece of art – a deliberate provocation to the progressive liberal elite and young activist artists. “I wanted to make a really pretty work of art, where the aesthetic of colour and pattern fight with the messages,” explains Grayson but should the legacy of Tory austerity really look this pretty? “Does grimness always need to look grim? You can be subtle with bright colours. Why not make it jolly?” Are these soft primary colours referencing a childlike Boris Johnson? Is this a serious work about homelessness, inequality and austerity, hiding behind a decorative façade? Grayson would shrug this off, maintaining that his work is full of humour and complaining that, “one of the main currencies of the art world is seriousness.”

By Chloe Grimshaw

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