Grayson Perry’s Tomb Of The Unknown Craftsman returns to the British Museum

A previously unseen version of Grayson Perry’s Tomb Of The Unknown Craftsman has been unveiled at the British Museum, nine years after its sister piece went on display.

The elaborately decorated cast-iron coffin-ship is being shown to celebrate the reopening of the British Museum on August 27, after months of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Turner Prize-winner Perry, 60, created four versions of the work in 2011, but only one was shown in the exhibition.

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He completed this piece, which had remained unfinished, days before the unveiling.

The tomb, a memorial to the anonymous craftsmen of history, takes the form of a ship sailing into the afterlife, carrying replicas of objects from the collection of the British Museum.

It has been placed alongside the 2,400-year-old Nereid Monument, a tomb built around 380BC for Erbinna, a ruler of Lycia, now Turkey, to create a dialogue between the two items.

Perry said the unveiling signalled the work’s return to its “spiritual home”.

Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman photocall
Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman photocall

He said: “The Tomb Of The Unknown Craftsman was the centrepiece of my 2011 exhibition of the same name at the British Museum.

“That show was one of the proudest achievements of my career, also one of the most enjoyable and educational projects I have embarked on.

“I am excited to see the tomb redisplayed in its spiritual home on the occasion of the museum reopening after lockdown.

“The tomb is a memorial to all the anonymous craftsmen of history.

“I meant it to be the shrine at the epicentre of a site of pilgrimage, the museum.

Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman photocall
Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman photocall

“It holds in its centre the tool that begat all tools, a flint hand axe. The ship is a symbol of trade and cultural exchange, loaded with images from all across the world held in the museum.

“From its masts hang the blood, sweat and tears of those craftsmen and pilgrims past. It is a ship of death.”

Perry, who is a trustee of the museum, also recalled the influence its collection of art and artefacts had had on him.

He said: “From a Super 8 film I made at art college in 1982, through to a 1998 Tang Dynasty bronze racing car and the 2011 Rosetta Vase, and most recently a tomb model of my home I made for our lockdown Channel 4 show Grayson’s Art Club.

“The museum has been a constant friend ever since my first visit in the mid-1960s and I am delighted to be associated with it still.”

Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman photocall
Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman photocall

Hartwig Fischer, director of the British Museum, said: “It is wonderful to have Grayson’s remarkable artwork back at the museum where it was first seen nearly a decade ago.

“Then as now, this piece is a reminder that many of the most remarkable works of human creativity in the collection of the British Museum were made by people whose names have been lost.

“This will be an opportunity to celebrate them and the astonishing objects they have left behind.

“After this difficult year, their legacy allows us to see humanity’s ability to endure and create even in precarious times.”

The London venue will have been shut for 163 days by the time it welcomes back visitors – the longest peacetime closure in its 261-year history.

Visits need to be pre-booked and a one-way route will be installed around some galleries.