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Review: Grayson Perry's The Vanity of Small Differences Exhibition

By Julia Parry | 26th August 2014

After Grayson Perry’s much anticipated appearance at the Teddy bears picnic in the Museum Gardens earlier this summer, Yorkshire has pulled off another Grayson Perry coup. Temple Newsam House in Leeds has been chosen to display the tapestries created alongside the Channel 4 Bafta winning documentary series All in the Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry (2012). Where Perry explores his fascination with taste and class by visiting three very different regions of England, exploring the taste of the different social groups he encountered. Temple Newsam will be the last venue in the UK before the exhibition starts an international tour next year.

The enormous tapestries are displayed in the South Wing where Temple Newsam’ s principal rooms are to be found, they date back to the 1510’s and themselves reveal the changing patterns of style and taste over several centuries; a perfect setting to gauge and compare taste.

The Vanity of Small Differences

The Vanity of Small Differences

The tapestries look at English class through the story of the life of Tim Rakewell and his progress through modern British society from humble birth to infamous death. They are composed of characters, places and objects encountered by Perry on his travels through Sunderland, Tunbridge Wells and the Cotswolds. As well as drawing on these experiences, Perry was also inspired by art-historical imagery from early Renaissance religious works but most importantly from William Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress - telling the story of the rise and fall of Tom Rakewell.

It is an inspired choice of venue to house this thought provoking exhibition. I was filled with delight as I entered the various rooms displaying the tapestries. The stark reality of seeing everyday objects I actually possess at home gauging my own personal taste made me squirm with embarrassment and laugh out loud in equal measures. You walk from room to room where through the tapestries the life and story of Tim Rakewell is unravelled. The final one in the series entitled #Lamentation is displayed alongside Hogarth’s Rake’s Progress. Seeing them together draws a stark comparison between the 18thC and today, highlighting the fact that little has really changed in behaviour between then and now.

The predominantly voluntary staffs chosen to work at Temple Newsam during this superb exhibition are brimming with pride and enthusiasm in their role. I was told they would love more volunteers to help out between now and December. So please contact them if you are able to be a part of this wonderful event.

The exhibition continues until the 7 December at Temple Newsam House, Leeds.

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