Artist Grayson Perry has conceived a major new exhibition currently being exhibited at the British Museum entitled ‘The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman’. As the artist, curator and guide behind the concept, Perry has explored a range of themes connected with notions of craftsmanship and sacred journeys: from shamanism, magic and holy relics to motorbikes, identity and contemporary culture.
Dethroning the notion of the contemporary artist responding to a museum’s collection, Perry has developed an entirely new body of work for the exhibition. This was done while undertaking a personal journey through the vast British Museum collection to select approximately 200 objects that correlate to his own. The exhibition also features a number of existing works by the artist, many of which are on public view for the first time.
‘The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman’ is intended as a memorial to all the unnamed makers and builders who have produced outstanding man-made artefacts in the name of religion, tribal hierarchies, or social traditions. To this end, Perry has chosen an eclectic group of objects (many of them quite obscure) from across time and world cultures. These include objects as diverse as Polynesian fetishes, Buddhist votive offerings, a prehistoric hand axe, twentieth century badges, and an engraved coin from 1882 featuring Queen Victoria sporting a beard and a boating hat.
From the Prints and Drawings department of the British Museum 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’. This reflects the theme of pilgrimage that is played out in the exhibition and finds its contemporary counterpart in Perry’s own new tapestry ‘Map of Truths and Beliefs’.
At the exhibition’s heart sits Perry’s new work, ‘The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman’, an elaborate, richly decorated cast-iron coffin-ship. This vessel is intended to be a testament to the numerous forgotten male and female artists who, through the ages, made many of the objects found in the British Museum today.
The exhibition opened on 6 October 2011 and closes on 19 February 2012.