Grayson Perry, God, and a teddy named Measles sum up UK life in the Covid era

A work by the award-winning artist forms part of an exhibition about the pandemic at the Science Museum in London

Vanessa Thorpe

A pot made in lockdown by the British artist Grayson Perry is unveiled this week, as it takes its place as an exhibit in the Science Museum in London.

The large decorated vase will stand next to other symbolic items that illustrate the historic impact of the pandemic, including a selection of the vials used in the first mass Covid-19 vaccinations, some of the signs used in the government’s daily public pandemic briefings and a few examples of early homemade face coverings.

Grayson Perry’s Alan Measles – God in the time of Covid-19. Photograph: Isidora Bojovic/Science Museum Group

On 30 March, the Turner prize-winning artist’s ceramic vase, titled Alan Measles – God in the time of Covid-19, joins the display in the museum’s Medicine: the Wellcome galleries.

Inspired by the design of the “albarello” jars once used to hold drugs in hospital pharmacies, it is decorated in a simple, pale colour palette taken from the style of medieval “doom paintings”.

And featured particularly prominently, among the images of many of the things that became familiar as infection rates spiralled, is Grayson’s famous teddy bear, Alan Measles. The bear appears alongside Perry’s female alter ego, Claire. Last but not least is the likeness of Chris Whitty, the UK’s chief medical adviser.

Perry’s artwork began life during the hit Channel 4 television show Grayson’s Art Club, which aired during the first Covid-19 lockdown two years ago, and it has not been seen in its finished form until now. “This work reflects my state of mind during a time of great fear and uncertainty,” Perry said.

“Alan Measles – my personal metaphor for God, masculinity, care and security – is shown distraught because his other half is seriously ill. His efforts helping at the hospital are mocked by protesters.

“Depressed and exhausted, he joins a group of homeless people beneath a motorway.”

The pot was created in the “fantasy” themed week of the C4 series presented by Perry and his wife, Philippa, also the Observer advice columnist, from their own home.

“Perry’s moving and beautiful artwork” has been acquired for the gallery, said Natasha McEnroe, keeper of medicine at the Kensington museum, to help “represent not only advances in diagnosis and protection against Covid-19, but … the emotional impact of living through a public health crisis.”

The smaller, unassuming vials going on display in the show were donated by the NHS and used on 8 December 2020 at the Coventry hospital where the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was given for the first time as part of the mass immunisation programme.

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