Tracey Emin, My Bed, 1998. Mattress, linens, pillows, rope, various memorabilia. Saatchi Gallery, London. © The Artist
Exhibition review - Kim Patrick avoids the crowds around Tracey Emin's bed and discovers new qualities in Tracey Emin: 20 Years, showing at The National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh until November 9 2008
Celebrating the work of ‘Britain’s best known but least understood artists’, Tracey Emin: 20 Years currently showing at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh is the first major UK retrospective of Emin’s work.
A retrospective in the broadest sense, Tracey Emin: 20 Years, is not only a survey of Emin’s work and range as an artist but a collected, personal history that by her own admission proved to be an overwhelming experience to bring together:
"Last week with the instalment I got to an emotional grinding halt where it felt a bit too much," she said. "My whole life was in front of me."
Tracey EMIN b.1963, Hotel International, 1993 Appliqué blanket, 260 x 240. © The Artist
Emin’s whole life does indeed feel as though it is on display, but not with the sensation and controversy we have come to expect from this very public, public figure.
Even My Bed (1998), Emin’s most recognisable work, her unmade bed complete with urine soaked sheets and her everyday paraphernalia including cigarettes, contraception and worn underwear is softened by the vulnerability and even affection found in possibly less familiar, overshadowed works.
While a crowd is forming around Emin’s bed take the opportunity to enjoy quiet access to Exploration of the Soul (1994), 32 pages of handwritten, unedited, confessional scrawl that will capture your heart and your stomach at the same time.
Tracey Emin b.1963, Exorcism of the last painting I ever made, 1996 Performance at Galleri Andreas Brändström, Stockholm 1996. Saatchi Gallery, London. © The Artist
Opposite, you will find Family Suite (1994), twenty monographs that are a series of little horrors. Both of these works will satisfy any desire for the over familiar allure of Emin.
From the spelling mistakes to the whimsical, even her voice narrating Why I Never Became a Dancer (1995), you will discover the child like quality within the explicitly adult in Emin’s work.
It is the installation A Perfect Place to Grow (2001), a ‘token of affection’ for her father that marks the exhibition’s departure from Emin’s pre-occupations in the 1990’s. And introducing her more recent elegiac approach is the fragile rollercoaster installation It’s Not the Way I Want to Die (2005) and the melancholic, even unexpectedly girlish paintings such as, I Told You Not to Try and Find Me (2007).
Tracey Emin b.1963, The Perfect Place to Grow, 2001. Mixed media: wooden birdhouse, DVD (1 min 45 sec), monitor, trestle, plants and ladder. Tate: Purchased 2004. © The Artist
Tracey Emin: 20 Years addresses the public perception or rather misconception of the artist and successfully appeals for a recognition of her range in media and sentiment.
This exhibition functions as an autobiography as much as a retrospective and firmly places Emin’s iconic works in the first few chapters, giving room for more recent explorations and the next direction for Emin to prevail.