Playing to the Gallery: Helping Contemporary Art in its Struggle to be Understood

Grayson Perry has become, in his own words, ‘a fully paid-up member of the Establishment’, simultaneously making a living and headlines from his work and loveable personality. But what does it really mean to be accepted by the “art world mafia”? What is “art” now? Who decides what qualifies as “art” and what doesn’t? Is Marcel Duchamp’s urinal a work of art or just a piece of piss? These are just a handful of the mind-boggling questions that Perry touches on within his 2014 release Playing to the Gallery (based upon his extremely popular Reith Lectures of the previous year). I decided to take the plunge into his passionate defence of art in the hope of finding some answers.

The book, at 144 pages in Hardback (including illustrations), is not a daunting tome of artistic drivel. The relatively concise nature of the work proves Perry to be a talented illustrator and wordsmith, condensing the main principles behind the “art world” into a comprehendible chunk. Perry states that it is ‘…called Playing to the Gallery and not Sucking up to an Academic Elite‘ for good reason, but there were a few instances where I felt a little bit like an outsider peering in through a net curtain of my neighbour’s house. In other words, there were a few instances where I believe that Perry could have simplified his approach further by explaining the significance of vocabulary such as ‘highbrow’, ‘lowbrow’ and ‘middlebrow’. (Admittedly, I did have to Google the terms in order to distinguish them correctly from the placement of hairy facial features).

The book is a nice little adventure into the unknown for art novices, or an entertaining read for those who already possess arty knowledge of some kind. It mentions various artists and movements, from the household names of Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso to the more contemporary players such as Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons and Takashi Murakami. Pick this book up as a nice little read, and you may just feel the electronically controlled gates of the prestigious art world let you in.

PHOTO: From Playing to the Gallery by Grayson Perry, published by Particular Books.

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