National Portrait Gallery – Grayson Perry and almost William Morris

National Portrait Gallery – Grayson Perry and almost William Morris.

Last weekend Matt and I went to the National Portrait Gallery. It wasn’t a planned trip, we’d been doing some errands and were in the area. I have been to the café areas in the V&A and the Natural History Museum, and so thought it would be a lovely place for a bit of coffee and crossword.  It was a bad shout on my part, the café area looks a bit like a nice McDonalds.  We decided to have a wander around while we were there. I’m really trying to make the most of the fact we have all of this fantastic culture on our doorsteps whilst we’re living in London.

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I love bright clothes.

As we walked in there was a sign saying ‘Anarchy and Beauty – William Morris and his legacy’. I like all of those things, so meandered over towards it. We come to a large room, and there is information about Morris, as well as examples of his work up. The more I start reading, the more into it I get.  Although I learned about his work in school, and how it had influenced interiors and art during the Victorian period, I hadn’t been taught that he was a socialist. To be fair, I think the entire class was more about us cutting up potatoes and using them to create prints, political context can often be lost on eight year olds. What I particularly got a kick from was his idea of ‘art for all’. For me personally, the arts have been instrumental to my understanding of myself and the world around me. Exploring emotions and concepts that are often extra-linguistic. Art should be for everyone.

We get to the entrance of the exhibit and are turned away because we haven’t purchased tickets.

Having worked in an arts venue, I understand the need for an entity to be able to generate an income for itself. However, I find it absolutely laughable that they are charging entry for an exhibit based around a socialist who believed art should be for everyone. The tickets were £11.70. That might not sound like a huge amount, but when you compare it with weekly benefits allowances it seems ridiculous. It is a wonderful thing about the UK that so many of our museums and galleries are free of charge.  I am grateful for that, especially when I come back after being somewhere with lots of interesting but financially draining institutions, like Rome.  However, I feel that when curating an exhibit you should be respectful to the original artist’s views. It isn’t like they weren’t aware of them, they proudly announce them in the anteroom. It would be like insisting women are accompanied into the suffragette exhibit upstairs.

We laughed about the irony and moved on. As I said, I am grateful for the fact that there are many interesting free exhibits. Like  Grayson Perry: Who are you? Absolutely killer, really enjoyed it. My favourite two pieces were the hijab and the giant cash note. The hijab is beautiful. It tells the story of a young woman converting to Islam and leaving behind a life based on commercial values and booze. I particularly like the fact she is being supported and led by the women she has met. The shopping centre and mecca seem to be directly compared, both as distributors of identity. I don’t feel like one was being portrayed as any better than the other, although it did seem like the main character was getting more human support by converting to Islam. She seemed to be happier in her new direction as well.

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The idea of the exhibit is to challenge and attempt to define British identity through a series of portraits of individuals at some kind of crossroad or transition. Identity was often strongest in the people or groups who had it repeatedly challenged.  I like the fact that although Britain is far from perfect, we are in a place which allows large variety in values, families and other cornerstones of identities that we end up with such diverse groups.

If anyone is around London I would recommend going and checking it out, it’s on til the 15th March.

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