The Erasmus Prize, an award that’s been dubbed the “Dutch Nobel Prize,” doesn’t always go to an artist, but when it does, that person is someone who ends up being historically significant. Architects Renzo Piano and Jean Prouvé, photographer duo Bernd and Hilla Becher, and painter Marc Chagall are among the members of the art world who’ve won it in years past, putting them in a group of winners that also includes art historian Ernst Gombrich, filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, theorist Claude Lévi-Strauss, and writer Simon Wiesenthal. Now, a new artist will join their ranks: Grayson Perry.
Perry, one of the most high-profile British artists working today, is the winner of the Erasmus Prize, which comes with a cash award of €150,000 (around $165,000). The Praemium Erasmianum Foundation, an Amsterdam-based organization that facilitates the award, said in a statement that Perry was selected for the “insightful way he tackles questions of beauty and craftsmanship,” adding that “at a time when we are constantly bombarded with images, Perry has developed a unique visual language, demonstrating that art belongs to everybody and should not be an elitist affair.”
The artist, who won the Turner Prize in 2003, has made prints, woodcuts, cast-iron sculptures, and even a house—the artwork A House for Essex, based on the life of fictitious Essex everywoman Julie May Cope. His most well-known works are ceramics which explore—and subvert—British social norms, gender binaries, and cultural attitudes toward craft. Autobiographical narratives feature in his works, often via his feminine alter ego, Claire. In recent years he’s turned his attention toward Brexit, and for one memorable piece, he unveiled two monumental vases representing the two sides of the debate—leave or remain—in 2017. It was up to the audience to decide which vase depicted what stance. The vases were acquired by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
Perry’s win marks the first time a British visual artist has been selected for the prize since 1968. In addition to the Turner Prize and, now, the Erasmus, Perry has also won BAFTA awards for his documentary series, which include All in the Best Possible Taste (2013), a critique of social hierarchies in modern-day England, and Who Are You? (2014), a program exploring portraiture and identity that was accompanied by an exhibition of ceramics at the National Portrait Gallery in London.
At the announcement of his award in London, Perry said he was “overwhelmed and honored and humbled, really,” adding, “I always love a medal. I’ll probably design an outfit to match.”