Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman

6 October 2011 – 19 February 2012
Room 35
Admission charge

Supported by AlixPartners
with Louis Vuitton

The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman is a memorial to makers and builders, all those countless un-named skilled individuals who have made the beautiful man-made wonders of history. They are an artist in the service of their religion, their master, their tribe, their tradition.

Grayson Perry has conceived a major new exhibition for the British Museum. As the artist, curator and guide he will explore a range of themes connected with notions of craftsmanship and sacred journeys – from shamanism, magic and holy relics to motorbikes, identity and contemporary culture.

The collections of the British Museum consist of over eight million objects made by men and women from every age and corner of the globe. Upturning the familiar convention of a contemporary artist "responding to a museum’s collection", Perry has here developed an entirely new body of new work whilst undertaking a journey of his own through the vast British Museum collection to select over 190 objects that correlate to his own. The exhibition will also feature a number of existing works by the artist, many of which will be on public view for the first time.

"I have spent my entire career under the influence of the past, I wondered what I would learn from reversing the process. An object throughout its history will probably be subject to different readings. I invite you to view these artefacts by reading them through my lens. I am not a historian, an archaeologist or an ethnographer. I am an artist and this is principally an art exhibition. I have made my choices of objects from the BM collection because of their connections with each other and with my own work. Sometimes the connection is in their function sometimes in their subject and often in their form. One thing that connects all my choices is my delight in them". Grayson Perry, 2011

Perry has chosen an eclectic group of objects - many of which are little-known - from across time and world cultures: from Polynesian fetishes to Buddhist votive offerings, a prehistoric hand axe to 20th century badges, and even a re-engraved coin from 1882 featuring the bust of Queen Victoria with beard and boating hat.

From the Prints and Drawings department Perry has selected a map in three parts from 1790, “A Plan of the Road from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City adapted to the Pilgrim's Progress”, which reflects the theme of pilgrimage that is played out in the exhibition and finds it’s contemporary counterpart in the new tapestry by Perry, Map of Truths and Beliefs, 2011.

At the exhibition’s heart will sit Perry’s extraordinary new work, The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman, an elaborate, richly decorated cast-iron coffin-ship - a vessel weighted with the freight of Perry’s imagination and an eloquent testament to the innumerable forgotten artists who through the ages made many of the objects found in the British Museum today.

Philip Attwood, Keeper of the Coins and Medals department, who has been working on the exhibition with Grayson, said “Grayson Perry has brought his unique eye to the Museum's collections and selected and juxtaposed objects in a way that none of those of us working here would ever have conceived. The exhibition will be quite unlike anything the British Museum has put on in the past.'

Grayson Perry (b. 1960), The Rosetta Vase, 2011. © Grayson Perry. Courtesy Victoria Miro Gallery, London.

Notes to Editors:

  • Admission charge £10 plus a range of concessions. Tickets go on sale in July, sign up for ticket alerts online at Opening hours 10.00–17.30 Saturday to Thursday and 10.00–20.30 Fridays

  • A full public programme will accompany the exhibition. More information is available from the press office.

  • An accompanying catalogue will be published by British Museum Press: Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman, Grayson Perry, October 2011, hardback £25

AlixPartners: when it really matters

AlixPartners LLP is a global business-advisory firm offering comprehensive services in four major areas: enterprise improvement, turnaround and restructuring, financial-advisory services and information-management services. The firm has more than 900 professionals and 15 offices around the world, and can be found on the Web at

Pippa Wicks, a Managing Director of AlixPartners, the global business-advisory firm said: “We are delighted to be supporting the British Museum and Grayson Perry on this exhibition. This is the first time the British Museum has undertaken a project of this kind, curated by a living artist. At a time of public funding cuts to arts and culture, we are proud to be supporting brave, innovative and original initiatives such as this.”

Louis Vuitton: Always the unexpected since 1854

Founded in Paris in 1854, Louis Vuitton has been synonymous with the art of travel. Its iconic trunks and luggage have accompanied journeys throughout time. True to the pioneer spirit of its origins, Louis Vuitton consistently breaks new ground in art, architecture, fashion and design.

With the arrival of Artistic Director Marc Jacobs in 1997, Louis Vuitton extended its expertise to ready-to-wear, shoes, accessories, watches and jewellery, available in its exclusive network of stores located in over sixty countries. Combining traditional craftsmanship with flair, innovation, and sophistication, Louis Vuitton offers an unexpected and complete lifestyle experience.

Tom Meggle, Managing Director of Louis Vuitton UK said “Louis Vuitton shares Grayson Perry’s passion for craftsmanship and are thrilled to support this exhibition in the heart of cultural London. Art is an important component in Louis Vuitton’s heritage and we are proud to be working alongside Grayson Perry, one of the most eminent contemporary artists of our era. We look forward to collaborating with him on his exhibit The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman which will be unveiled at the British Museum in October.”


For further information please contact Olivia Rickman on 020 7323 8583 or