LONDON — At least one Brexit deal has been done: On Friday, the Victoria and Albert Museum said it has acquired Grayson Perry’s “Matching Pair” vases, which will go on permanent display in the Ceramics Galleries.
Created in 2017, a year after Britons voted to leave the EU, each vase depicts supporters of Leave and Remain. The vases went on display March 29, to coincide with the date that Britain was originally scheduled to leave the EU.
The vases were unveiled a few hours before British Members of Parliament shot down an abbreviated version of Prime Minister Theresa May’s withdrawal deal. The government lost by a margin of 58 votes, making it the third time that MPs have rejected May’s Brexit deal, and taking the country one step closer to an unmanaged, or “no-deal” Brexit on April 12.
On Friday afternoon, MPs were asked to vote on the first part of May’s deal only, the actual withdrawal agreement, which concerns the terms of Britain’s exit from the EU. May and her cabinet had hoped that splitting the vote into two separate parts could push her deal over the line. They were wrong. The no vote sent the pound down as low at $1.29 on Friday, compared to the average of $1.31 over the past five days.
May said the result was a matter of “profound regret. I fear we are reaching the limits of this process in this House.” On Monday, April 1 and Wednesday, April 3, MPs will once again vote on alternative solutions to May’s deal. They will have until April 12 to agree on an exit strategy and present it to EU leaders. If MPs cannot come up with a new plan by then – and secure a further extension from the EU – the country will “crash out” of the union, potentially causing chaos for businesses that trade with Europe.
Even more complications are looming: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s calls for a general election are getting louder, although May has said that would cause even more confusion for the public. Also, if the U.K. succeeds in securing a longer Brexit extension, it would find itself in the bizarre position of having to take part in European Parliament elections, which run from May 23-26.
Understandably, business groups are fuming, with business lobby CBI calling Friday’s vote “yet another blow for business, jobs and livelihoods. ‘No-deal’ is now only 13 days away. On Monday MPs have the opportunity to compromise and find a majority. Business and the country are counting on you.”
In a speech earlier this week, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce Adam Marshall said that businesses are “none the wiser as to how a messy exit can be avoided on April 12, and none the wiser as to the terms on which the U.K. will leave the EU. Or indeed, at this moment, whether we will leave at all.” He added the country “is not ready for abrupt change.”
The V&A said Perry’s works were purchased with the support of the Ruddock Foundation for the Arts, V&A Members, Sarah Nichols, the William Brake Charitable Trust and an anonymous donor.
Both vases are more than 3 feet tall and are decorated with sgraffito figures and transfer-printed images. The museum said Perry took a new approach to decorating by crowdsourcing ideas, photographs and phrases via social media.
Posting videos on Facebook and Twitter, Perry asked Leave and Remain voters to choose their favorite brands and colors, to define “Britishness,” and to share pictures of their tattoos and send selfies. Both works are finished in a blue glaze – the preferred color of both sides.
Contributions from 24 members of the public on Brexit and Britishness feature, including teapots, bacon and eggs, Marmite, families by the seaside, walking the dog, and the pub.
Pictures of Barack Obama, Gandhi, Shakespeare, logos for Waitrose and the NHS are displayed on the Remain vase. On the Leave vase are images of Nigel Farage, Winston Churchill, the Queen, and the Cadbury’s logo. The making of the work and the issues it addresses were explored in Channel 4’s 2017 documentary, “Grayson Perry: Divided Britain.”
“Maybe it is a bit utopian to say: ‘We are in this together! We all have a shared identity!’ But you’ve got to start somewhere,” said Perry of his approach to the work. “It’s important to talk to people who we don’t necessarily agree with, and listen to what they have to say. The two pots came out looking remarkably similar, which is a good result, for it shows that we all have much more in common than that which separates us.”
Alun Graves, the museum’s senior curator of Ceramics, Sculpture and Metalwork, said Perry has addressed “the most significant political event of our times. We hope that people will come to our Ceramics Galleries to see them, and explore what they have to say about the Brexit debate.”
The V&A already owns a number of works by Perry, including My Heroes (1994), Mr and Mrs Perry (2006) and a glazed ceramic wall tile made for the exterior of A House for Essex (2015).