By CATHARINE MORRIS
Is there anyone in the art world more instantly likeable than Grayson Perry? He seemed to fill the room with good cheer as soon as he crossed the threshold (or emerged from the green room) of Foyles bookshop on Monday evening, resplendent in clown garb accessorized with an umbrella and a pink wig.
He was there to open the Art department of Foyles’s new flagship shop – 107 Charing Cross Road, next door to the old one – and he began by telling us that he once shared a high-class squat with a really good shoplifter. Foyles was deemed easy pickings in those days, he said, and this man was a regular. He was eventually caught holding a bulging bag, and he subsequently found (the shoplifter, that is) that he was more embarrassed by the pretentiousness of the books – the titles were read out in court, I think Perry said – than by the crime itself.
Perry declared his belief that art books, as appealing objects, are one part of the book trade that "won’t die out soon”. He was reminded of an anecdote about Lord Snowdon, who having published a book containing pictures of artists’ studios, gave a copy to the Queen, prompting the response, “I really must get a coffee table”. There is another intrinsic merit in the hard-copy format: its (relative) durability – you don’t want to spill turpentine on your iPad. Perry’s books have survived the studio, even if some of them are a bit “sepia-tinted” in places.
The publication of a monograph is a great moment for an artist, Perry said. When he had his first show, he was more excited about the catalogue – at least at the moment when somebody came along and held it up – than about the actual exhibition. For him a catalogue is a “multi-coloured tombstone”. But in the art book sector in general, he said, “there’s a lot of umming and ahing”. Art books can be expensive and difficult to produce. And it can be difficult for the consumer, too. How do you know what to buy?
Perry provided – with the authority of somebody confident in such matters (“Artists: we trust our own subjective experience”) and who buys a lot of art books – a suggested decision-making procedure:
1) Are there enough pictures?
2) Are they good pictures?
3) Are there enough pictures you haven’t seen before?
4) Proceed to checkout.
A Foyles representative then began the countdown – "10, 9, 8 . . .”. Perry had been given a pair of scissors, and he stabbed the air with every number. Then he cut the ribbon, and the book-signing could begin.
The Foyles Grand Opening Festival runs until July 5 (the Editor of the TLS, Peter Stothard, and Mary Beard, Classics editor, will be appearing next Thursday; unfortunately tickets for their event Confronting the Classics have sold out, but some events have spaces available: the full programme can be found here).