Grayson Perry Faces Criticism For “Dead Wood” Comments

While museums in England are closing again, Grayson Perry is facing outrage for suggesting that Covid-19 will rid museums of “dead wood”.

Nov 3, 2020By Antonis Chaliakopoulos, MSc Museum Studies, BA History & Archaeology
Grayson Perry, via Royal Academy (left); Detail from Grayson Perry’s the Upper Class at Bay, photo by KeithJustKeith, Flickr (right).

Grayson Perry is an English contemporary ceramist, and well-known cross-dresser and TV presenter. Perry gave an interview at the Arts Society, where he said that Covid-19 will help the art sector get rid of “dead wood”. The content and tone of his remarks have led multiple museum professionals and artists to say that Perry is out of touch with reality.

The interview came as a celebration of Perry’s 60th birthday. Throughout his career, the artist has won the Turner prize, delivered the BBC Reith Lectures, and become a Royal Academician. In 2008 he ranked 32nd in The Daily Telegraph’s “100 most powerful people in British culture”.

Perry is best known as a ceramist. His ceramics often depict social concerns with strong autobiographical tones. He often appears as “Claire”, his female alter-ego.

Perry’s statements could not have come at a worse time. European museums in France, Germany, Belgium, and now the UK are closing again due to lockdown restrictions. In England, the museum and heritage sector is in poor financial condition. Institutions are struggling to survive, while one after another announces budget and staff cuts.

Grayson Perry And The Controversial Interview

Grayson Perry, via Royal Academy

In his interview, Perry touched upon multiple social issues. However, most attention drew his suggestion that Covid-19 will clear out the art landscape.

“I think every part of life has probably got a bit of fat that needs trimming, a bit of dead wood. It’s awful that the culture sector has been decimated, but I think some things needed to go. Too often, the audience for culture is just the people making it – theatres with whole audiences of actors, or exhibitions only put on to impress other curators. With Covid, it’s been like turning a computer off and on again, and seeing which files reappear. Some of them we don’t really give a damn about. What’s interesting is what might not re-emerge.”

In another part of the same interview, Perry also tried to find the good things in the pandemic:

“We don’t want to fly now; we’re all cycling. Greta Thunberg is wetting her knickers. Covid’s achieving all the things she wants.”

However, he also recognized that there are difficulties in the current climate which are making social differences apparent:

“It’s put a lens on everything – zapping the contrast on all the injustices in society. The poor suffer more, the non-whites suffer more… It’s a ripe moment for social revolution. When everything’s up in the air, it means that the pieces have a chance to fall down in a very different pattern.”

Reactions to the Perry Interview

Detail from Grayson Perry’s the Upper Class at Bay, photo by KeithJustKeith, Flickr

Are you enjoying this article?

Sign up to our Free Weekly Newsletter

The interview is receiving a lot of negative criticism on British mainstream and social media. Sarah MacCrory, director of the Goldsmith Centre of Contemporary Art commented:

“His timing is disgraceful … I’m not sure why he’s so out of touch and unempathetic – perhaps it’s because he’s become the mainstream.”

Other artists, curators, heritage and museum professionals, also agreed with MacCrory. These people also argue that Grayson Perry could not have made these statements at a worse time. Aaron Angell, who runs the Troy Town Pottery in London said:

“The people losing their jobs are not the gang of cheek-kissing curators, but the invigilators, educators and hospitality staff that exist to make the museum more accessible. They are there to make the audience tackle work a bit more complicated than the words ‘hate speech’ written on a teapot.”

Interesting is that Grayson Perry is an elected Royal Academician and that the Royal Academy is also planning to let go of 150 members of staff.

Closures, Cuts And The Second Wave

Museums in London close due to nationwide lockdown, via Pexels

The UK is now facing the second wave of the pandemic as museums in England are closing on Wednesday due to a nationwide lockdown that will last at least four weeks.

This decision is sure to raise more problems as institutions were already struggling to balance the consequences of the first wave of the pandemic. Now the new closures will bring more uncertainty to the sector.

One can only imagine what will happen to small and medium-size museums when some of England’s largest institutions are already announcing budget and staff cuts. The Victoria and Albert Museum is planning to lose up to 10% of its staff; approximately 100 jobs. York Museums Trust and National Museum Liverpool are also preparing to cut almost 100 positions each to balance severe financial losses. Especially striking is also the National Trust’s decision to let go of 1,200 of its staff.

Author Image

By Antonis ChaliakopoulosMSc Museum Studies, BA History & ArchaeologyAntonis is an archaeologist with a passion for museums and heritage and a keen interest in aesthetics and the reception of classical art. He holds an MSc in Museum Studies from the University of Glasgow and a BA in History and Archaeology from the University of Athens (NKUA). Antonis is a senior staff member at TheCollector, managing the Archaeology and Ancient History department. In his spare time, he publishes articles on his specialty.