Grayson Perry - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, March 2, 2023 | Phillips

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  • “My latent fear has always been that if I started leaching out the controversy in my work then it would be nothing more than pottery.”
    —Grayson Perry

    The distinguished artist, potter, broadcaster, and Turner Prize winner, Grayson Perry uses his public platform to investigate and pass witty comment on contemporary culture. Through his collaged application of text, images, narratives, and elements from popular culture, Perry chronicles contemporary life and a personal biography, creating an accessible and vivid storyboard. Working in a medium steeped in a history of decorativeness, associated with craft and domesticity, a fundamental underlying tension permeates the artist’s ceramic works. Objects that the viewer recognises as beautiful and comforting are often, on closer examination, challenging, witty, sardonic, graphic, and obscene.


    Perry creates his works in his studio, importantly without the help of studio assistants. His pots are made using a traditional coiling technique, where lengths of clay are rolled out into long snake-like shapes, before being layered on top of one another. The finished form is then decorated with an assortment of complex ceramic practices, from photographic transfers, glazing, incision, relief, and stamping, among others. Implementing a ‘when in doubt, bung it on’ philosophy, the pots are a complex layering of meanings, both visually and symbolically.i


    Gilbert & George, 2011. Image: Jeff Morgan 03 / Alamy Stock Photo

    The present example, Gilbert and George in China, 1993, is an important example of the artist’s early work. Perry simultaneously celebrates Gilbert and George and reflects on the perceived hypocrisy surrounding the Chinese governments hosting of Gilbert and George’s China Exhibition of the same year, at the National Art Gallery, Peking and Art Museum, Shanghai. Working across two vases, the contradictions between the Chinese government’s values and those central to the artistic duo’s character and political views are laid alongside one another, exploiting the convex form of the vase. The decision by the Chinese Government to host an exhibition of Gilbert and George in 1993 was deemed surprising. However, the exhibition and the artists’ London gallerist brought money and the promise of Western visitors and publicity to China. It is also possible that the government were not completely au fait with the artists’ work and were also of the mentality of ‘what the West says doesn't affect us’, thereby disregarding the influence of anything foreign. Whilst the government were in favour of the exhibition, the Chinese avant-garde condemned the lenient nature and interest of Chinese officials toward Gilbert and George. For them, the conditions of the exhibition trounced the works messaging; they viewed their government as hypocritical having opposed the works the Chinese avant-garde were producing within China.ii


    In the present work, the double-act are commemorated on either side of the vases. On one side, we see the duo each enshrined in an oval frame, dressed in their immediately recognisable formal tweed suit ensemble. On, the reverse, Perry’s satirical sense of humour is evidenced as Gilbert is thanked by a local government official: ‘why thank you Gilbert and George seeing your wonderful Art has made us stop the oppression of our people.’ Meanwhile, on the other vase, George is caught in a sexual act with a figure dressed in traditional Chinese attire. They are surrounded by a variety of Chinese, biographical, and descriptive imagery, that speaks to issues of cultural appropriation, globalisation, a clash of cultural values and sexual identity, all executed in Perry’s typical satirical manner.


    Detail of the present work

    Perry also pays a visual homage to the lives of his subjects by incorporating leitmotifs of their life in London; inscribing ‘Fournier Street’, the artists home and studio since 1968 along the upper edge, with ‘COCK’ written directly below. Elements and symbolism that appear throughout Perry’s oeuvre are also present: References to war are frequently used to suggest that masculinity and threat are inseparable, entwining elements from his own childhood experiences in addition to commenting on his subjects. In the present work, a swastika is painted on the tail of the plane next to the portrayal of George, who is illustrated as saying ‘Marxism our finest western export’.  Similarly, religious symbolism, as seen in the crucifixion stamp adhered to the vase in the present work, signifies for Perry a questioning of the assumptions and doctrines on which faith is built. Religious iconography was also the subject in works by Gilbert and George exhibited at Gilbert and George’s 1993 China Exhibition, as seen in CHRISTS.


    Within Gilbert and George in China, Grayson Perry encompasses the old and the new, Eastern versus Western values, and the acceptable and the controversial, whilst layering biographical and autobiographical references. As Jacky Klein notes on Perry’s ceramics, ‘Their peculiar beauty and power lies in Perry’s ability to translate that authenticity of personal belief, imagination and experience into more universal truths about contemporary life and the human condition.’iii


    Collector’s Digest

    • Working across a broad spectrum of mediums, Grayson Perry chronicles contemporary life through often witty and at times deeply thought-provoking works which draw upon universal themes such as gender, religion, social class and identity.

    • Awarded the Turner Prize in 2003, appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2013, and invited to curate the 250th Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy in 2018, Perry was knighted for his service to the arts in the King’s 2023 New Year Honours.

    • Perry is currently exploring what Englishness means today, with Grayson Perry’s Full English, viewable on Channel 4. 


    i Grayson Perry, quoted in, Sarah Howell, ‘Sex pots’, World of Interiors, July 1993, p. 101.

    ii Andrew Solomon, ‘Their Irony, Humor (and Art) Can Save China’, The New York Times Magazine, 19 December 1993, online

    iii Jacky Klein, Grayson Perry, London, 2013, p. 43

    • Provenance

      Galerie Clara Scremini, Paris
      Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1994)
      Sotheby's, London, 16 October 2006, lot 157
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Literature

      Jacky Klein, Grayson Perry, London, 2009, p. 208 (illustrated, p. 209)
      Jacky Klein, Grayson Perry, London, 2013, pp. 234, 288 (illustrated, p. 235)

Property from an Important Private Collection


Gilbert and George in China

stamped with the artist’s monogram and titled ‘GILBERT and GEORGE in CHINA’ lower edge
two glazed ceramic vases
(i) 38.4 x 25.5 x 22 cm (15 1/8 x 10 x 8 5/8 in.)
(ii) 38.8 x 26 x 25.2 cm (15 1/4 x 10 1/4 x 9 7/8 in.)

Executed in 1993.

Full Cataloguing

£80,000 - 120,000 

Sold for £76,200

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4060

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 2 March 2023