Grayson Perry at Arnolfini: In Conversation with Rob Bowman
As Director of Programme, Rob Bowman welcomed the inspirational and provoking ‘Grayson Perry: The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!’ to Arnolfini – and as sponsors of the exhibition, we sat down with him to understand why thousands of people are desperate to see the artist’s works.
Arnolfini has long committed to exploring ideas through high profile artists, and as Rob rightly points out, “Grayson Perry’s reputation is a thoughtful figure able to bring the public into a debate.” Despite the arguably controversial nature of many of his words, Grayson Perry has managed to persuade countless people to share their private opinions on topics such as gender roles, the role of the outsider, and Brexit.
If you took a casual glance around one of Arnolfini’s many spaces that have been transformed by Grayson Perry’s work, you could be forgiven for assuming you were viewing a traditionalist approach to art. The fine art of the embroidery, the classic shapes of the pottery, belies “a surprising, subversive, anarchic view point,” Rob believes. Without alienating his audience, Grayson Perry does challenge them to think again. “The exhibition itself grapples with this notion of what it is to be popular,” Rob explains.
There can be few gallery spaces that are well suited in temperament and history for Grayson Perry than Arnolfini. It’s inter-disciplinary approach – one that Rob firmly supports – has seen a multitude of media decorate its walls and halls, giving the Director of Programme a fascinating challenge: “We have worked hard to put together a season of different talks, tours, performances and film nights drawing from the themes of the Grayson Perry’s practice” reveals Rob. “These special events give everyone the chance to delve deeper and explore the ideas at the heart of the exhibition.”
Rob and his team have done a sterling job doing just that, with talks from Martin Parr, a photographer whose work explores the nature of Britishness, seated alongside late night poetry events, and family activity weekends throughout the autumn. This is a curated appeal with a purpose, and Rob is not shy of it: “The broad appeal makes us more ambitious about what we do, and that’s exciting.”
But even as a curator of multiple exhibitions and many pieces within the Grayson Perry show, Rob has his favourite. “It’s Our Mother,” he revealed with a smile. “It encapsulates our concerns surrounding refugees by representing a universal figure, and as a curatorial team we decided to place it beside the Brexit jugs and other pieces that reflect Britishness. We want to spark conversations, and placing juxta-positioning pieces alongside each other provokes a tense relationship between them.”
After hours and hours of hard work, Rob and his team are now seeing the fruit of their labours. “We were heartened by the degree of enthusiasm to the exhibition: how much people wanted to share their reactions,” Rob said. “We were impressed by our opening, with 3700 on one night and then over 6000 people the following weekend pouring through our doors.”
We are proud sponsors of the Grayson Perry exhibition, bringing world class art to tens of thousands through our partnership with Arnolfini, which you can learn more about here. If you want to explore Grayson Perry’s exhibition at Arnolfini, you have until 1pm Christmas Eve before it moves on.