Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress has been a rich resource for artists. Film-makers recognise his modern moral subjects as an ancestor to the storyboard. But in this age of mass media can the format still hold its own and tell us something about ourselves? A new exhibition at the Foundling Museum (until 7 September) suggests so.
The show is titled Progress — but don’t come expecting happy endings. Only Yinka Shonibare gives us a relatively light ending, in that the protagonist does not end up mad, bad or lying in a drain. His photographic series, Diary of a Victorian Dandy, refuses to moralise and instead toys theatrically with race, colonialism and aristocracy.
David Hockney’s rake, intoxicated by freedom and money, wastes away in 1960s New York, against a backdrop of Kennedy, bottle-blonde women and transistor radios. Eventually the storyline veers into Bedlam.
While Hockney dusts his prints with contemporary events and objects, Grayson Perry goes full throttle. Into the six magnificent The Vanity of Small Differences tapestries (see ‘The Adoration of the Cage Fighters’, 2012, above ), Perry squeezes all manner of objects as he charts the most taboo of subjects — class. Using biblical references and religious iconography, he exposes our collective foibles: the sentimentality of the working classes; the painful self-loathing of the middle; the mildewed nostalgia of the upper. Penguin mugs, Hermès bags, William Morris wallpaper — the devil is in the detail, and it’s hard not to recognise yourself somewhere within the paraphernalia. Like Hogarth, Perry knows our vanity can’t resist a mirror to peer into.