Grayson Perry says Covid will clear ‘a bit of dead wood’ in the arts

Grayson Perry
Grayson Perry: “Too often, the audience for culture is just the people making it.”

Artist Grayson Perry has said the consequences of coronavirus on culture will lead to “a bit of dead wood” being lost from the arts scene.

“I think every part of life has probably got a bit of fat that needs trimming, a bit of dead wood,” he told The Arts Society magazine.

“It’s awful that the culture sector has been decimated, but I think some things needed to go.”

His comments attracted ire from some in the arts, but others backed him up.

He continued: “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.”

On Tuesday, following the attention his comments attracted, he wrote on Twitter that they had been “taken out of context”.

“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,” he said.

“I hope my hard work in support of the arts has shown how much I believe art is for us all and brings joy to amateurs and professionals alike. In times of hardship we need the arts more than ever.”

Perry, who won the Turner Prize in 2003, had a TV hit during the spring lockdown with Grayson’s Art Club on Channel 4.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the arts, entertainment and recreation industry had a lower percentage of businesses trading in late September and early October than any other, and the highest proportion of staff – 28% – on furlough.

Venues like the National Theatre, Southbank Centre and Tate galleries have already announced hundreds of job cuts, and English theatres, galleries and museums will close their doors again this week for the new month-long lockdown.

A group called Radical RA, which is opposing around 150 proposed cuts at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, described Perry’s original comments as “irresponsible”.

Singer and actor Marcus Reeves tweeted: “Pre-Covid, most of the actors I know didn’t have the money to go to theatre, many of the musicians I know didn’t have the money to go to gigs…”

Sarah McCrory, director of Goldsmiths Centre of Contemporary Art, told The Guardian: “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. His timing is disgraceful… I’m not sure why he’s so out of touch and unempathetic.”

But others felt Perry had a point. Actor Samuel West, chair of the National Campaign for the Arts, which this summer warned that many organisations faced “ruinous losses”, tweeted that the interview “seems quite reasonable”.

Theatre and film director Kerry Kyriacos Michael wrote: “Grayson Perry is correct.”

In the interview, Perry also said the pandemic had focused minds on social and racial inequality. “It’s put a lens on everything – zapping the contrast on all the injustices in society,” he said.

“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.”

An exhibition of works from Grayson’s Art Club was due to open at Manchester Art Gallery on 25 November, but will now be postponed due to the latest lockdown.

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