Grayson Perry’s Dream House caused a storm among art critics following its unveiling in a Channel 4 documentary last week. Although commissioned by Living Architecture to function as a holiday home, the two-storey detached property in Wrabness, north-east Essex, is far from a residential new-build; it is a work of art. The house has two bedrooms and is open to be rented, but Perry describes it as an Essex Taj Mahal, a shrine and a work of art that has taken him four years to complete.
Grayson Perry is not the first artist to draw upon the theme of a domestic house to create a large-scale art installation. In 1993, Rachel Whiteread won the Turner Prize for a full-scale cast of a Victorian town house in East London. Gregor Schneider’s ‘Totes Haus u r’ for the Venice Biennale in 2001 transposed and distorted the rooms of his childhood home in Rheydt to Venice, and last year, Alex Chinneck created a life-size house of wax in central London that slowly melted over the course of a couple of months. More historical examples include William Morris and Philip Webb’s Red House that was conceived as the ultimate manifestation of Arts and Crafts ideals, and Horace Walpole’s 18th-century Strawberry Hill, which transformed a suburban cottage into a whimsical Gothic Revival castle; Strawberry Hill acted as an eccentric site for entertaining and a gigantic folly that upturned the contemporary classical architectural tradition. These houses were not designed as luxury residences for the property market, but are expressions of political and aesthetic stances. The subject of the domestic house has acquired particular political poignancy amidst on-going debates regarding Britain’s housing crisis. The ultimate testament to its pertinence in the art-world is the provocative inclusion of Assemble’s housing estate as a runner-up in this year’s Turner Prize. Next month, an exhibition opens at MOMA entitled ‘Endless House’, which looks at the relationship between artists and architecture and the use of the house as a means to explore universal topics.
Like all Grayson Perry’s works, Dream House struggles against conformity to the contemporary art scene and the exclusive art-market. The house is designed as an homage to a fictional character, Julie Cope – an everywoman who was born in a council estate, grew up in Essex, divorced and re-married and died under the wheels of a delivery moped. Her sardonic tale is told through bright-coloured murals, distinctly of Perry’s style, that are reminiscent of the illustrations of a children’s book. Perry’s artwork is a home, littered with personal touches. Every nook of the house is a memorial to Julie: terracotta tiles of pregnant women surround the fireplace and the building’s exterior; decorative mosaics, tapestries and vases mark key moments of Julie’s life; and the moped that killed her hangs in the hallway as a chandelier. Looking around a house is wholly unlike looking around a gallery; it is intimate, unpredictable and immersive – perhaps this is the appeal of architecture and houses for so many artists.
Grayson Perry’s Dream House is available to watch on 4 On Demand until June 17th; ballots to rent Dream House are now open.