The Vanity of Small Differences - Grayson Perry

The critically-acclaimed work is a series of six vibrant tapestries created by Perry to tell the story of class mobility and explore the influence social class has on our aesthetic taste.

By Matthew Tyas | Last updated 29 October 2013

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Manchester Art Gallery is showing Grayson Perry’s The Vanity of Small Differences this autumn.


The critically-acclaimed work is a series of six vibrant tapestries (each measuring 4m x 2m) created by the artist to tell the story of class mobility and explore the influence social class has on our aesthetic taste.

Inspired by William Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress, the work charts the “class journey” made by young Tim Rakewell and includes many of the characters, incidents and objects Grayson Perry encountered on journeys through Sunderland, Tunbridge Wells and The Cotswolds for the television series ‘All in the Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry’.

The television programmes were first aired on Channel 4 in June 2012 and won a BAFTA this year in the Specialist Factual category. In the series Perry goes “on a safari amongst the taste tribes of Britain”, to gather inspiration for his artwork, literally weaving the characters he meets into a narrative, with an attention to the minutiae of contemporary taste every bit as acute as that in Hogarth’s 18th century paintings.

Grayson Perry has said of the work:

"The tapestries tell the story of class mobility, for I think nothing has as strong an influence on our aesthetic taste as the social class in which we grow up. I am interested in the politics of consumerism and the history of popular design but for this project I focus on the emotional investment we make in the things we choose to live with, wear, eat, read or drive. Class and taste run deep in our character - we care. This emotional charge is what draws me to a subject".

The exhibition coincides with the artist delivering the prestigious Reith Lectures (the first was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday 15 October and a further three lectures will be broadcast through October and November).

Manchester Art Gallery is only the second gallery outside London to be showing Grayson Perry's The Vanity of Small Differences. The display in Manchester provides the chance to see the tapestries alongside a full set of Hogarth’s earliest prints for A Rake’s Progress, on loan from the Whitworth Art Gallery.

Images detailing the development of the artist’s ideas and the production process for the tapestries will also feature within the displays. Manchester Art Gallery’s copy of Print for a Politician (2005) by Grayson Perry will be on show as well.

The UK tour of the tapestries follows last year’s joint acquisition of the work by the Arts Council Collection and the British Council, made possible thanks to a significant act of philanthropy on behalf of the artist and a number of partners involved. The Arts Council Collection and the British Council Collection work to maximise opportunities for British artists and arts institutions in the UK and overseas, and this collaboration gives the widest possible audience a chance to see this important work,

The tour will continue to:
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (14 February – 11 May 2014)
Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool (23 May – 10 August 2014)
Leeds City Art Gallery (late August – October 2014).
An international tour will follow.

To coincide with the display, the Arts Council Collection has launched an app for iPad and iPhone produced by Aimer Media with commentary from the artist, art historical references and a guide to the making of the works. This is Perry’s first app and will give users the chance to see the tapestries up close with detailed zoom facility and Grayson's own audio guide. It was recently shortlisted for a Futurebook Innovation Award in the Best Adult Digital Book category. The digital guide, Grayson Perry: The Vanity of Small Differences, is available only on the App Store (£1.99).

The display is part of The Arts Council Collection Partnership supported by Christie’s.