Wed 21 October 2009, The Guardian

In praise of… The Walthamstow Tapestry

Ninety-two years have passed since Duchamp signed the urinal. Brilliant as the joke was the first time around, in the long decades since, the standing of contemporary art has suffered from the "I could do that" reaction. The great thing about the transvestite potter Grayson Perry is that, for all his weird playfulness, he churns out a flood of original ideas – and executes them exquisitely. Few of us could fashion a Ming-style vase, and still fewer would ever think to emblazon it with a pleasing mix of medieval icons and photographs cut out of back copies of Smash Hits . Perry's Walthamstow Tapestry stole the show at last weekend's Frieze art fair , and the full-size version is showing at Islington's Victoria Miro Gallery for another two weeks. It is first and foremost a feast for the eyes, an array of colourful figures doing their thing alongside birds, boats and a great star which all doff a cap in the direction of Bayeux , as does the largely beige backdrop. A giant birthing mother and dying old man suggest one big theme, but step in closer and a stitched brand name emerges alongside every image. McVitie's, Andrex, Lidl: Perry ribs our collective creation of corporate idols. Nor do the supposedly post-materialistic classes escape: the Guardian joins the roll call of fetishised products. Sometimes there is a satirical logic (the RBS astrologer on the BAE warship), although why the blacksmith-cum-policeman labours alongside "Marmite" is anyone's guess. Understand it or not, though, the truth is you would never have dreamed it up.
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