Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Good ...Taste

What truly tremendous TV the Grayson Perry documentary series In The Best Possible Taste was - almost enough to make me forgive Channel 4 for its inexorable slide into tedious mediocrity and offensive dross over the last few years. The premise was simple enough: Perry was cast as an anthropologist of sorts, travelling around Britain exploring the nation's different "taste tribes", divided along perceptible class lines. Admittedly, we missed the first instalment of the documentary, which focused on working-class culture in Sunderland, but the second and third parts were excellent.

In the second, Perry spent time in Tunbridge Wells classifying and investigating two distinct brands of middle-class taste: the aspirational materialists, who seemed to suffer from a chronic angst, caught between the desire to be like everyone else and own the "right" brands but not to flaunt them in a way that might be considered vulgar or brash; and the individualist materialists, who sought to fill their homes with kitschy nick-nacks or symbols of culture as an expression of their individuality.

The third episode found Perry in the Cotswolds, mixing it with the tweed-and-polo set but ultimately painting a rather elegiac portrait of the upper class as a dying breed. They seemed imprisoned within crumbling country piles that cost a fortune in upkeep, clinging doggedly onto the comforting certainties of tradition and relics of the past as a way of blocking out the encroaching threat of the present and particularly of new money.

As a presenter, Perry was perfect. Inquisitive of mind and clearly delighted at having the legitimate opportunity to have a nose around people's houses and wardrobes, he did so in a remarkably thoughtful way, never openly critical of or sneering towards what he saw. A bucket load of restraint, or just indicative of a genuinely open-minded and non-judgemental person? The latter, it certainly seemed. If his conclusion - that "good" and "bad" taste only exists (as far as it does exist) within specific, narrowly prescribed societal groups, rather than as universal truths - was somewhat predictable, then that's not to imply that the journey he took to reach it was anything less than fascinating.

Each of his encounters with the three different classes gave birth to two huge tapestries, which were initially inspired by Hogarth's The Rake's Progress and specifically styled on (or parodied, perhaps) famous classical and religious scenes. All except the sixth composition I was very impressed by - and so it was a source of some irritation to discover that, while they're currently being exhibited at the Victoria Miro in London under the title The Vanity of Small Differences, the gallery is shut on Sundays, thereby frustrating our plans to use our one free Sunday until late September to inspect them at close quarters.

Still, at least there's the consolation of knowing that there's more to come in the same vein from the Perry/Channel 4 partnership, I suppose.

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