Earlier this year, British artist Grayson Perry decided to crowdsource two vases based on Brexit's Leave and Remain constituencies. Voters were invited to contribute photos and comments, and select their favourite of six colours, which would determine the predominant hue of the vase. Performing political populism in art was revealing: both sides expressed a strong preference for Marmite, both sides liked blue the most, and when the vases were unveiled on BBC in front of representatives of both sides of the referendum, well, they were hard to distinguish.

The vases form the centrepiece of Perry's The Most Popular Art Show Ever! at the Serpentine Gallery in London until September 10. Opened on the day of the British election in June, the exhibition examines popularity and art, as well as masculinity and the current cultural landscape a year after the EU referendum, using traditional artistic mediums like ceramics and tapestry. Says Perry:

Grayson Perry, Battle of Britain, 2017, Tapestry, 302.7 x 701 cm, Courtesy the artist, Paragon | Contemporary Editions Ltd and Victoria Miro, London (photograph Stephen White) © Grayson Perry
“I am in the communication business and I want to communicate to as wide an audience as possible. Nothing pleases me more than meeting someone at one of my exhibitions from what museum people call ‘a non-traditional background.’ The new works I am making all have ideas about popularity hovering around them. What kind of art do people like? What subjects? Why do people like going to art galleries these days? What is the relationship of traditional art to social media?”


From championing democratic art to making digs at collectors and advocating climate change, Perry packs punches and humour into the exhibition. Numerous ceramics in the form of large-scale, classically-shaped vases adorned with figures, patterns and texts relating to politics, consumer culture, the art world and social media are on show. “Cutting-edge art for all the family,” declares one witticism. “Luxury brands for social justice,” declares another. And a third, “Paint and canvas have had their day, hail the humbled pot.” The words "We Lose The Planet" are emblazoned in a depiction of a yellow airplane flying over Donald Trump kneeling solemnly while holding the hand of Perry's childhood teddy bear Alan Measles, seemingly in the guise of the Pope, as if asking for redemption.

Grayson Perry, Battle of Britain, 2017, Tapestry, 302.7 x 701 cm, Courtesy the artist, Paragon | Contemporary, Editions Ltd and Victoria Miro, London (photograph Stephen White), © Grayson Perry
Indeed, when Perry – a 57-year-old artist born in Chelmsford, Essex, and based in London – won the prestigious Turner Prize in 2003 for his ceramics, the judging panel commended his use ceramics and drawing in his engagement with personal and social concerns.

Several tapestries are exhibited too, such as "Battle of Britain" (2017), the title referencing Paul Nash's 1941 painting of the Battle of Britain in 1940, when German and British air forces clashed in the UK skies during World War II. In Perry's tapestry, the Battle of Britain takes on another meaning: that of Brexit and the socio-economic divide. Red graffiti reading "Vote Leave" and "Class War" are daubed near a row of terraced houses in the fringe between urban and rural. A cluster of tents, used for shelter by the homeless people and migrants, lies on the other side underneath a flyover. A rainbow brightening the toxic plumes of smoke is an allegory for Perry's optimism against this bleakness.

Grayson Perry, Outsider Alan, 2017, Ceramic, found objects, pebbles, shells, iron, wood, glass, 120 x 56 x 32 cm, Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London (photograph Stephen White) © Grayson Perry
Grayson Perry, Puff Piece, 2016, Glazed ceramic, 74 x 34 cm, Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London (photograph Stephen White) © Grayson Perry
Elsewhere, a custom-made motorcycle that Perry commissioned is parked in front of a photograph of a lush, mountainous landscape. Challenging the masculine stereotype of a motorbike, Perry's vehicle is in bright turquoise and pink, the overt femininity alluding to Perry's cross-dressing ultra-girly alter-ego Claire.

Other works on display include a piggy bank for making donations to the Serpentine Gallery (which is free to enter) and a flag-like collage for an imaginary "Gay Black Cats" motorcycle gang, inspired by the Asafo flags created by the military organisations of the Fante people in what is modern-day Ghana. Meanwhile "Outsider Alan" (2017), a totemic figure made from pebbles and objects found on the beach, pays tribute to outsider art. The work recalls how Perry would make artworks with rubbish found in his London squat shortly after arriving in the capital, decades before he could have aspired to make The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!

Grayson Perry, Gay Black Cats MC, 2017, Cotton fabric and embroidery appliqué, 97 x 148 cm, Edition of 150 plus 10 artist’s proofs, Courtesy the artist (photograph Stephen White) © Grayson Perry
Grayson Perry, The Digmoor Tapestry, 2016, Tapestry, Photography: Stephen White © Grayson Perry
Grayson Perry, Long Pig, 2017, Glazed ceramic, 39 x 32 x 82 cm, Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London (photograph Stephen White) © Grayson Perry
Grayson Perry, Installation view, Serpentine Gallery, London (08 June 2017 – 10 September 2017). Image © 2017 Robert Glowacki
Grayson Perry, Installation view, Serpentine Gallery, London (08 June 2017 – 10 September 2017). Image © 2017 Robert Glowacki
Grayson Perry, Installation view, Serpentine Gallery, London (08 June 2017 – 10 September 2017). Image © 2017 Robert Glowacki
Grayson Perry, Installation view, Serpentine Gallery, London (08 June 2017 – 10 September 2017). Image © 2017 Robert Glowacki