Grayson Perry’s ‘The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman‘ is dominated by the figure of Alan Measles, the artist’s 50-year-old teddy bear. The ragged, dog-eared toy has become the “God of Perry’s imaginary world,” playing the part of hero and ultimate male role model. Scattered throughout the exhibition are images of Alan Measles – Alan as fertility god, Alan cast in bronze as a huge toy soldier, Alan as motif for all that is good and brave and strong – but Alan himself, the tatty teddy bear, is nowhere to be found.
Alan Yentob, in the Imagine documentary, asked Grayson Perry why Alan Measles was absent. Perry explained that, even though the British Museum is safe and special enough for the Elgin Marbles and the Rosetta Stone, Alan was too precious to leave there. He was not only more prized than any other object, but more personal – the one thing not for showing, the one thing so meaningful, so tied up with memories, that it is not for display. The absence in the exhibition of the talisman himself felt honest, and more moving than if he’d been propped up in a display cabinet for all to see. It felt refreshing.
We live in a world where everything is up for grabs, everything is to be shared. Weddings or break-ups, beach holiday or family Christmas snaps, even the precious first pictures of a new born. The bestselling book charts show as wide a range of revealing biographies and tell-all autobiographies as could possibly be desired. Things seem to be validated simply by their exposure.
Tracey Emin is a clear example of this in art. She reveals the most intimate and distressing details of her history – love affairs, abortions, her relationships with her parents and grandparents. We have total access. No holds appear to be barred.
With more ways to share than ever before, perhaps it is time to consider which things are not available for public consumption?