Grayson Perry launches 'biggest ever' Edinburgh exhibition
Updated: Nov 15
Sir Grayson Perry has officially opened his new Edinburgh exhibition — and it's his largest ever.
The National (Royal Scottish Academy) is the venue hosting Grayson Perry: Smash Hits all through the summer and autumn of 2023. And as the title suggests, it features all the best bits from the Turner Prize-winning artist's career. That's 40 year's worth of art!
Perry has taken over the entire Upper Galleries of the Royal Scottish Academy, to offer visitors a chance to embark on an exclusive retrospective journey through this remarkable art journey.
Launching the Edinburgh exhibition ahead of its public opening, Perry told the PA news agency that he's done a “lot of work” over the past four decades, and he “wants to celebrate it.”
“At its core I think I’ve had the same shtick for 40 years" he said. Adding: "I’ve become more skilful, I’ve become richer and I’ve worked in different ways but the basic shtick remains the same.”
Those 40 years are represented here through more than 80 works of art on show, from ceramics to a large number of tapestries. There's also almost all of the artist’s meticulously detailed prints and imaginary maps too. Some of the works have never been seen before.
Much like Perry, the exhibition doesn’t play by the rules, renouncing traditional chronological displays in favour of presenting his work as a journey; one which will lead audiences through the many themes embedded within his provocative art, including masculinity, sexuality, class, religion, politics and identity. Visitors should a huge breadth of work imbued with Perry’s sharp wit and social commentary.
A highlight is the rarely shown Walthamstow Tapestry from 2009 which, at 15 metres in length, explores the emotional resonance of brand names in our lives and our quasi-religious relationship to consumerism. It depicts a human life, punctuated with an endless series of commercial brands — such as IKEA and Louis Vuitton — that the individual encounters along the way.
New works include the richly detailed tapestry Sacred Tribal Artefact (2023), and a series of pots and plates, all of which explore themes of national identity. Perry’s latest pots, such as A Plague of Diaphobia and Ye Olde English Pot, are presented in the form of medieval beer flagons. Decorated with traditional slipware techniques, they reference subjects ranging from the polarising effect of internet debate to heraldic iconography.
There’s also an opportunity to encounter the intricate cast-iron ship —Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman — which was the centrepiece of Perry’s hugely popular 2011 exhibition of the same name at the British Museum.
Other highlights include objects chosen from his recent Channel 4 series — Grayson Perry’s Full English — where the artist travelled the country to uncover what Englishness means today. From a pub sign to a football flag, and a teacup to a letter from the Queen, they highlight not only the individuality and significance of cultural identity, but how artistic treasure can be found in many forms.
Sir John Leighton, Director-General of the National Galleries of Scotland, said that "It has been forty years since Sir Grayson Perry first started making his pots and plates, and twenty years since he gained international acclaim when he won the Turner Prize; [so] it is the ideal moment to celebrate Perry’s achievements to date.”
How much are Grayson Perry exhibition tickets?
If you're super keen to see the show — and you should be! — then you probably want to pre-book your visit as tickets are in demand. Tickets to Grayson Perry's exhibition are £19 for adults, £10 for students and £5 for children. Under 12s go free.
And if you're a real Grayson Perry super-fan, then you might want to prepare for your visit by buying — and reading! — the accompanying book. It features 75 of the exhibited works, and covers the full range and breadth of his astonishing career. Buy your copy here*.
Sir Grayson Perry is no stranger to museums and galleries. He's a Trustee of the British Museum, and his Grayson Perry Art Club exhibition — spun off the lockdown hit TV show on Channel 4 — has toured the country. In 2018, he curated the 250th edition of the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition.
But around the opening of this huge career-spanning art exhibition, Sir Grayson told PA he was questioning whether he still has the will to make some of his art, at the age of 63. He said: “I get daunted when I see all of this stuff.
“The other thing is I’m old now and I look things and I go, ‘Have I got the energy to make that?'”
It didn't take too long for us to get the answer to that question however, when just a few months later it was revealed his next major exhibition would celebrate his 65th birthday in 2025 and would open at London's Wallace Collection.
Thankfully that's not too long to wait.
Grayson Perry: Smash Hits is at the National (Royal Scottish Academy) from 22 July until 12 November 2023. It is supported by Victoria Miro gallery and Paragon Press and sponsored by Jigsaw Foundation and Friends of National Galleries Scotland.
— Become a museum and gallery insider with the maxwell museums newsletter