Antidote to the cult of celebrity: Grayson Perry's "Map of Truths and Beliefs" (British Museum)
The exhibition year in London is ending with a flourish. With the big Leonardo and Gerhard Richter shows representing the best of old and new art and sucking in the gallery-goer's oxygen there is still a clutch of other recently opened exhibitions offering alternatives.
Perhaps the most interesting is Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman at the British Museum. In a novel collaboration, the museum gave the Turner Prize-winning transvestite potter the run of its collections and allowed him to pick a selection of objects to accompany his own in a display that amounts to a quirky spin-off of the History of the World in 100 Objects project. Here the history laid out is that of Perry's distinctive worldview.
His own pots and artefacts stand alongside such bizarreries as a 19th-century turtleshell bonnet from Samoa, 17th-century Staffordshire slipware dishes, Congolese carved ivory, Egyptian grave goods and so on. Perry's aim is to salute the nameless artisans who fashioned such pieces, to provide an antidote to the modern cult of the celebrity artist. The irony that he is just such an artist — the well-known craftsman, as it were — is not lost on him. But his work is interesting because it elucidates a richer interior life than that displayed by many of his peers. One can't strip away his bobby-socked alter ego Claire or his devotion to his teddy bear Alan Measles (the presiding deity of this show and a recurring motif) because they are not mere Anthony Blanche affectations but integral to what he does.
There is, of course, a degree of self-indulgence in the way Perry links himself with the craft tradition and he himself, in whichever persona, is not to everyone's taste. Nevertheless, his grouping of exhibits does speak poignantly about how some of the most moving and spiritual of objects were the product of the most humble of hands.