Grayson Perry sparks controversy for his comments regarding the effects of Covid-19 on the arts

Celebrated contemporary artist Grayson Perry has received backlash from fellow artists for comments made during an interview with The Arts Society. In the interview he suggested, “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…some of them we don’t really give a damn about. What’s interesting is what might not re-emerge.” 

But some have criticised the timing of his remarks, with new lockdown restrictions in the UK painting a bleak picture for the arts. Museums and galleries will close again on Thursday 5 November 2020, while theatres and other music venues have remained shut since March.  

Speaking to The Guardian, one artist who wishes to remain anonymous asserted “Pre-Covid, the arts were thriving. It is disingenuous to diminish arts workers’ contributions in the middle of a pandemic in which they are facing redundancy to gain cheap publicity and prop up the art elite.” 

Thousands of job cuts have already been announced by the National Theatre, Southbank Centre, Victoria and Albert Museum, Royal Academy, National Trust and Tate galleries due to the collapse of tourism. It has been reported that the majority of job losses are being felt by front-of-house and education employees. 

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,” explained Aaron Angell, who runs the Troy Town Pottery in London. 

Sarah McCrory, director of Goldsmiths Centre of Contemporary Art, also criticised Perry. “Grayson’s work often pokes fun at the liberal elite that buy it, but perhaps he’s just coming full circle as he’s joined their ranks.” She added “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.” 

For almost 20 years of his career, Perry described himself as an “artistic outsider” until he won the Turner Prize in 2003. His latest TV series on America’s culture clashes was a small-screen hit, following the success of Channel 4’s uplifting arts and crafts programme Grayson’s Art Club’.  

My comments in an interview have been taken out of context,” claimed Perry. “At this terrible time for the arts I’d like to clarify that I was CERTAINLY not referring to the loss of people’s jobs and opportunities in the arts, or to art galleries having to close due to the virus.” 

Perry also discusses in the interview how coronavirus is accelerating pre-existing movements in the arts, shifting focus onto social and racial inequality issues: “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.” 

“Uncertainty has always been a creative kick for me. How can I make work in a way that exploits the current situation, that fits into the “new normal”?… It’s what artists have got to do,” concluded Perry.  

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