There’s a Greyson Perry Tapestry in Manchester’s iconic Whitworth!

From his famed series 'The Vanity Of Small Differences' which explores twenty-first-century social class, The Whitworth is displaying the sixth piece in its current Tapestries exhibition.

By Ciara Martin | 31 December 2019

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English contemporary artist, Grayson Perry, is known for his observations of the contemporary arts scene and for dissecting British prejudices. His work is often autobiographical, in which images of Perry as “Claire”, his female alter-ego, and “Alan Measles”, his childhood teddy bear, often appear.

Perry has produced numerous documentary programmes and curated exhibitions. His esteemed documentary, ‘All in the Best Possible Taste’, filmed for Channel 4 in 2012, documented Perry as he created ‘The Vanity Of Small Differences’ a set of 6 tapestries which chart the class journey made Tim Rakewell (an imagined character inspired by William Hogarth’s 18th-century paintings ‘A Rake’s Progress’).

As part of Manchester’s The Whitworth’s current ‘Tapestries’ exhibition, viewers can find Perry’s ‘The Upper Class at Bay’ the fifth tapestry from ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’ situated amongst the likes of Marta Rogoyska and Eduardo Paolozzi.

Exploring Perry’s fascination with taste, Perry explored the tribes of Britain and the concept of social class with each tapestry in this collection. Numerous characters he encountered on his journey whilst filming the documentary are weaved into the art, telling a story of class mobility and the influence this has on our taste.

Perry’s work is forever authentically timely, often telling stories of twenty-first-century mobility. The Vanity Of Small Differences charts the complex journey through class, from the working-class communities of Sunderland through to the middle-class of Tunbridge Wells and finally, the upper-class families living in the Cotswolds.

Back in 2012, Perry gathered material by spending time in the company of each different group by interviewing, photographing and sketching them, even gaining further insight into each group by dressing up as a woman in their company.

“I thought it refreshing to use tapestries – traditionally status symbols of the rich – to depict a commonplace drama (though not as common as it should be): the drama of social mobility.”

Inspired by Hogarth’s 18th-century paintings; Perry adapted the narrative for contemporary society and weighted each piece with cultural references. Cans of Red Bull, Cath Kidston bags and Apple products feature throughout – toying with the stereotypical symbols we often associate with social class. In The Upper Class At Bay, a shadowed figure can be seen holding a picket sign which reads “no war but class war”.

‘Tim Rakewell and his wife are now in their late forties and their children are grown. They stroll in the grounds of their mansion in the Cotswolds. They are new money; they can never become upper-class in their lifetime. In the light of the sunset, they watch he old aristocratic stag with its tattered tweed hide being hunted down by the dogs of tax, social change, upkeep and fuel bills’  – Arts Council Collection, 2018.

The piece is on display at The Whitworth until 1 March 2020, as part of the ‘Tapestries’ exhibition.


There’s always plenty on at The University of Manchester’s gallery in the park @WhitworthArt, see what’s on this December below!

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The Whitworth, The University of Manchester, Oxford Road, M15 6ER