Grayson Perry, Our Mother, 2009. Courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro Gallery, London. © Grayson Perry. Photo: Stephen White.

Grayson Perry (b. 1960), Pilgrimage to the British Museum. Ink and graphite, 2011. © Grayson Perry. Courtesy Victoria Miro Gallery, London.

Grayson Perry's Paean to Unnamed Craftsmen and the British Museum

Batik from Java, Indonesia depicting European figures possibly Dutch royalty. Cotton, 1880-1913. © Trustees of the British Museum.

A painted wooden portable shrine decorated with scenes from the Hindu Epics. Made in Western India, 19th - 20th century.© Trustees of the British Museum.

Grayson Perry, The Rosetta Vase, 2011. Courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro Gallery, London. © Grayson Perry. Photo: Stephen White

Grayson Perry, The Frivolous Now, 2011. Courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro Gallery, London. © Grayson Perry. Photo: Stephen White.


British Museum
Great Russell Street
+ 44 (0)20 323 8000
Room 35
Grayson Perry:
The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman

October 6, 2011-February 16, 2012

The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman is a memorial to makers and builders, all those countless unnamed skilled individuals who have made the beautiful man-made wonders of history. They are an artist in the service of their religion, their master, their tribe, their tradition.

Grayson Perry has conceived a major new exhibition for the British Museum. As the artist, curator and guide he explores a range of themes connected with notions of craftsmanship and sacred journeys — from shamanism, magic and holy relics to motorbikes, identity and contemporary culture.

The collections of the British Museum consist of over eight million objects made by men and women from every age and corner of the globe. Upturning the familiar convention of a contemporary artist "responding to a museum’s collection", Perry has here developed an entirely new body of new work whilst undertaking a journey of his own through the vast British Museum collection to select over 190 objects that correlate to his own. The exhibition will also feature a number of existing works by the artist, many of which will be on public view for the first time.

Perry says, "I have spent my entire career under the influence of the past, I wondered what I would learn from reversing the process. An object throughout its history will probably be subject to different readings. I invite you to view these artefacts by reading them through my lens. I am not a historian, an archaeologist or an ethnographer. I am an artist and this is principally an art exhibition. I have made my choices of objects from the BM collection because of their connections with each other and with my own work. Sometimes the connection is in their function sometimes in their subject and often in their form. One thing that connects all my choices is my delight in them".

Perry has chosen an eclectic group of objects — many of which are little-known — from across time and world cultures: from Polynesian fetishes to Buddhist votive offerings, a prehistoric hand axe to 20th century badges, and even a re-engraved coin from 1882 featuring the bust of Queen Victoria with beard and boating hat.

From the Prints and Drawings department Perry has selected a map in three parts from 1790, A Plan of the Road from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City adapted to the Pilgrim's Progress, which reflects the theme of pilgrimage that is played out in the exhibition and finds it’s contemporary counterpart in the new tapestry by Perry, Map of Truths and Beliefs, 2011.

At the exhibition’s heart will sit Perry’s extraordinary new work, The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman, an elaborate, richly decorated cast-iron coffin-ship — a vessel weighted with the freight of Perry’s imagination and an eloquent testament to the innumerable forgotten artists who through the ages made many of the objects found in the British Museum today.

Philip Attwood, Keeper of the Coins and Medals department, who has been working on the exhibition with Grayson, says “Grayson Perry has brought his unique eye to the Museum's collections and selected and juxtaposed objects in a way that none of those of us working here would ever have conceived. The exhibition will be quite unlike anything the British Museum has put on in the past."

Re-engraved coin. Bust of Queen Victoria facing left, with beard and boating hat, minted in Royal Mint, 1882. Copyright the Trustees of the British Museum.

Green glazed composition staff-terminal in the form of the god Bes sitting on a lotus flower with a monkey between his feet. Egypt, 664-332 BC. © Trustees of the British Museum.

Grayson Perry, Map of Truths and Beliefs, (detail), 2011. Courtesy the Artist and The Paragon Press, London. © Grayson Perry. Photo: Alicia Guirao, Factum Arte.

Dish decorated with bust of William III. Made in Staffordshire by Ralph Simpson, 1700. © Trustees of the British Museum.