North East Connected

Grayson Perry’s tapestries to return to Sunderland

TAPESTRIES created by one of the UK’s favourite artists and chronicling the life story of a fictional Sunderland man are set to return to the city.

Turner Prize winning Grayson Perry’s hugely popular series of six tapestries, The Vanity of Small Differences, is to return to Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens from Saturday, April 9.

The tapestries were created while Perry was filming the 2012 Channel 4 documentary All in the Best Possible Taste. They are inspired by 18TH century writer William Hogarth’s moral tale A Rake’s Progress which follows Tom Rakewell, a young man who inherits a fortune, but fritters it away on sex, drinking and gambling.

In a similar vein, The Vanity of Small Differences follows the journey of Tim Rakewell as he journeys through the social strata of modern Britain, from a working-class boy to a computer software millionaire.

The collection depicts many of the characters and places Perry encountered while travelling through Sunderland, Tunbridge Wells and the Cotswolds for the series.

Two of the tapestries, Agony in the Car Park and Adoration of the Cage Fighters, are based on his experiences on Wearside. Each of the six tapestries measure 6ft 6ins (2m) by 13ft (4m) and were woven in Flanders on a computer-controlled loom to designs created by the artist.

The free exhibition is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Jo Cunningham, Exhibitions, Collections and Archives Manager at Sunderland Museum, said: “When The Vanity of Small Differences exhibition was launched here in Sunderland nearly ten years ago it was hugely successful – attracting more than 123,000 visitors, the most we’ve ever had to an exhibition – so we’re thrilled and delighted to have the tapestries back again.

“He seems to have an affinity for the city, and in turn, Wearsiders love his work.”

The exhibition will also include the monumental tapestry Comfort Blanket, described by Perry as ‘A portrait of Britain to wrap yourself up in, a giant banknote; things we love, and love to hate.’

The tapestry was based on a friend whose family had walked out of Hungary fleeing the Soviet invasion in 1956. Her mother referred to Britain as her ‘security blanket’. As their plane came in to land in the UK, the tannoy relayed a message from the Queen saying ‘Welcome to Britain, you are now in a safe country.’

This will be the first time Comfort Blanket has been shown in the region, and the tapestry is on loan from the Victoria Miro Gallery in London.

Grayson is an English contemporary artist, writer and broadcaster known for his ceramic vases, tapestries and cross-dressing, as well as his observations of the contemporary arts scene, and for dissecting British “prejudices, fashions and foibles.”

He has made a number of documentary television programmes and has curated numerous exhibitions. He has also had solo exhibitions at the Bonnefantenmuseum, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the Barbican Centre, the British Museum and the Serpentine Gallery in London, the Arnolfini in Bristol, The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Japan.

He was awarded the Turner Prize in 2003.

The Vanity of Small Differences is part of The Arts Council Collection, the most widely circulated national loan collection of modern and contemporary British art. The exhibition is the last to be presented at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens as part of Sunderland Culture’s partnership in the prestigious Arts Council Collection National Partners Programme.

Through this programme, Sunderland Culture has presented a series of exhibitions at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens, as well as Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art and online, inspired by work from the Arts Council Collection, with thousands of people from Sunderland taking part in linked activities and projects. The final exhibition in the series, Island State, will open in May at Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art.

* The exhibition closes on Sunday, June 5 and is expected to be very popular so booking your free tickets (from March 7) is essential – go to

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