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What made Grayson Perry show his true colours?

13 July 2023

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

On 12 July a multitude of museum dignitaries gathered in the Great Court of the British Museum to hear the announcement of the Art Fund Museum of the Year 2023. It was, of course, a celebration: drinks flowed and music thumped as the crowd toasted to Glasgow’s Burrell Collection, winners of the coveted award. The prize itself was given out by Grayson Perry, clad in a dashing orange frock. The contrast between Perry and the soberly-suited officials was, to coin a phrase, like apples and oranges.

Perry revealed that he had been asked not to wear red or blue to avoid clashing with the branded screen behind him. For an artist so given to standing out, he was happy to oblige. Nevertheless, Perry picked the colour of his gown with a kind of camouflage in mind: orange, so that if Just Stop Oil launched an attack, his dress would have been unharmed by any assault of their signature powders or paints. Possibly he hoped that selecting this colour would also symbolise support for the eco-activists.

Flaming June (1895), Frederic Leighton. Museo de Arte de Ponce; photo: Wikimedia Commons

Rakewell can’t help but think of how powerfully other artists have used orange in their work – not least among them Mark Rothko and Paul Klee. But there is another aspect to the adoption of this vivid hue that we hope might inspire artists. Perhaps Perry and Just Stop Oil could start a trend for more outfits in this fiery shade. Could anything be more delightful than a flock of artists dressed like Frederic Leighton’s Flaming June (1895) as they march to a podium or art party? Surely this sight would brighten even the darkest of days. Maybe the telecoms company was right after all: the future is bright, the future is orange.

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