Remember Grayson Perry, the out-spoken English artist who featured at the Museum of Contemporary Art in 2015 and 16 with his Hogarthian commentaries on contemporary UK life in the form of pots, tapestries, sculptures and paintings. Well, one of his ways into the headlines here was to denigrate Aboriginal art as having the neither spirituality nor hidden meaning (which) can actually take Aboriginal artists past the key gate-keeping tests of aesthetic and intellectual complexity.
That was before he got here. Upon arrival, the MCA sought to educate him into an understanding of the Indigenous, and, a quick learner, he soon apologised, using his exhibition launch press conference to suggest he’d gone so far as to lose sleep over the issue and, having toured the MCA’s Indigenous collection and talked to its curators, admitted, I was badly informed “ it’s a lot more complicated than I thought.
Having rather enjoyed his art “ which borrowed widely from Japanese, African, Islamic and medieval European sources “ I came to speculate: I wonder whether Grayson Perry will return to the UK fired by a happy combination of his new humility and Paul Keating’s latest eye-opener: At its best, Aboriginal art has been effective in translating an entire culture and the understanding of an entire continent. The more we interpret Australia through Aboriginal eyes the more we allow ourselves to understand the land we share.
Well, wonder no longer! For, a report by Adrian Searle in The Guardian newspaper previewing Perry’s new show at the Serpentine Gallery in London from 8th June to 10th September, finds much that is self-promotional rather than great art. But Searle adds: I much prefer Perry’s big, black and white woodcuts. They have real graphic oomph. One greets you in the first gallery, a bear, huge, horned and horny, with a ring through its nose, goes gallivanting across an industrial landscape. The creature’s writhing guts are visible, labelled ‘sensible’, ‘rational’ and ‘prudent’. Crows perch on the ursine spine, and an infant stares up at the bear’s erect penis. Almost my favourite bit is the clouds, lumpy with cross-hatched shadows.
“Out of the whole show, I like this best. I haven’t a clue what it means, which makes a change in an exhibition that is altogether too readable, reasonable and obvious.
So “ two aspects of that description stand out: one, the animal’s guts are featured prominently, as they would be in an X-ray art kangaroo from the walls of an Arnhemland rock shelter “ not that the Kunwinjku needed to explain their art in words; and two, the clouds gain immense effect from cross-hatching. Anyone for a Yolngu bark?
Could Grayson Perry CBE be interpreting Britain through Aboriginal eyes??