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Published on September 23rd, 2014


Playing to the Gallery by Grayson Perry

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Blurb: Now Grayson Perry is a fully paid-up member of the art establishment, he wants to show that any of us can appreciate art (after all, there is a reason he’s called this book ‘Playing to the Gallery’ and not ‘Sucking up to an Academic Elite’.) Based on his hugely popular Reith Lectures and full of words and pictures, this funny, personal journey through the art world answers the basic questions that might occur to us in an art gallery but seem too embarrassing to ask. Questions such as: What is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ art – and does it even matter? Is there any way to test if something is art, other than a large group of people standing around looking at it? Is art still capable of shocking us or have we seen it all before? Can you be a ‘lovable character’ and a serious artist – what is a serious artist anyway? And what happens if you place a piece of art in a rubbish dump?

(Particular Books, 2014)

Lynn Barber, The Sunday Times 

“He recalls that he once asked the brilliant photographer Martin Parr how you distinguished an art photo from an ordinary one and Parr told him you could tell it was art if it was “bigger than two metres and priced higher than five figures”. This book is full of good jokes like that, full of cartoons, full of memorable epigrams, but above all full of thought-provoking ideas that make you want to pause on every page and say: “Discuss.” I have never read such a stimulating short guide to art. It should be issued as a set text in every school.”

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Melanie Reid, The Times 

“Some art critics hated the Reith Lectures and will hate this book. “Handed the opportunity of a lifetime, he played it as panto,” sneered a Daily Telegraph critic last October, fatally undermined mid-review by a poll conducted for his own paper in which 87 per cent said they loved Perry’s observations. As do most of us. Perry has demythologised, warmly and wittily, contemporary art. He allows us to understand that art snobs are insecure people: that the problem is theirs, not ours”

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Tim Adams, The Observer 

“The great thing about Perry’s statement of it here is that you are always convinced that he believes it and lives by it. His “come on in, the water’s lovely!” spirit is an argument certainly for lightness and for play, but also for a different kind of rigour and commitment.”

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Sarah Crompton, The Telegraph 

“He says the things that we wish we had thought of, and asks the questions that we want to ask. What is art? How can we tell if what we are looking at is any good? Is it OK to like certain artists? The trouble is that when it comes to answering those questions, his arguments are as sinuous as his vases. All his thoughts head in interesting directions, but if you break the line of his reasoning down, step by step, it doesn’t take you to a firm conclusion. In the end, however, that probably doesn’t matter. Perry represents a gentle strain of English eccentricity, a kindly, soft-eyed wandering that doesn’t necessarily require hard-line outcomes.”

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Alastair Smart, The Spectator 

Playing to the Gallery is full of interesting thoughts, but where Perry frustrates is his tendency to flit from one of them to another without analysis. Time after time, he chooses a wisecrack over wise counsel, appearing to be on the verge of making a telling point when he backs out and opts for a gag instead… Perhaps the major surprise of this book is that, for all the praise of Perry’s deft skewering of the art world, his views — deep down — are really rather traditional.”

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Marcus Field, The Independent 

“It’s hard to imagine anybody who would disagree with Perry’s arguments – of course art should be open to all – which raises the question of who this book is for. As Perry himself points out at the start, Tate Modern is one of Britain’s top tourist destinations with 5.3m visitors a year so clearly people aren’t intimidated by art. There is one important point he makes though: the more you study art the more likely you are to appreciate it. And this is where some disingenuousness creeps into his cheeky chappy approach – art is not like cooking; it repays deep thinking, and beneath Grayson’s Essex-boy persona is a serious intellectual fighting to get out.”

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