ART INDEX: Tracey Emin
British artist Tracey Emin (Croydon, 1963) has studied at the Maidstone College of Art and gained an MA from the Royal College of Art in London. She is a member of the well-known artistic group Young British Artists, which rose to fame in the late 80s and she is best known for her autobiographical installations and works. In 1993, she opened The Shop with artist Sarah Lucas and they both exhibited their works there for a while. Later she exhibited her works in The Tracey Emin Museum gallery. In 1999, she was nominated for the Turner Prize, and she then represented Britain in 2004 at the Venice Biennale. Currently, she lives and works in London, and she has recently opened her own art school in Margate, in the attempt to step out of the self-centered art practice that she has followed until now and create a community of people in the arts. Her works are now held in the collections of the MOMA in New York, the Tate Gallery in London, and the Goetz Collection in Munich, among many others.
Her work and public statements make Tracey one of the most provocative artists of the late 20th century. She has created a wide range of works, managing all kind of different materials from neon to photography, from painting to performance and film to textile art. Though she is easily attracted to new and different materials, her artistic search is always centered around her own personal experiences and the investigations of her emotions and feelings, constantly seeking an intense engagement with the viewer.
The result is art that is powerful, visceral, and expressive all at the same time, dealing with very intimate experiences and emotions that, paradoxically, we can all relate to. Her work reflects on the universal themes of love, grief, loss, and lust, investigating what it means to be a woman in this world. Her goal is to always be as honest as possible, or as she put it “the most beautiful thing is honesty, even if it’s really painful to look at.”
Among her best-known pieces, we’d like to remember her most iconic pieces.
Everyone I Have Ever Slept With (1963-1995) is a sort of huge textile diary that keeps track of the names of all people she has ever slept with from family to friends. The names are of those who she has slept next to in bed or lovers she has taken over the years, even including her unborn children. These names are sewn into a huge tent which was later destroyed in 2004.
My Bed (1998; fig. 1) is a life size installation of her actual bed, messy and undone, covered in condoms, cigarettes and stains, the result of a long period of emotional and psychological trauma for Tracey. The piece is part of the permanent collection of the Tate Gallery in London.
Fig. 1 – Tracey Emin, My Bed, 1998, Tate Gallery (©Tracey Emin)
Lastly, her ongoing series of neons (started in the early 1990s; fig. 2) is in a way taking a different direction, speaking a language that is closer to that of commercial signage. Featuring Tracey’s handwriting, each neon features a short and incisive message that ponders on both the power and the meaning of this invisible energy that drives our lives and that we call love.
Fig. 2 – Tracey Emin, I Longed For You, 2019, up for sale on Artsy.net from White Cube Gallery
All these pieces, along many others, have contributed both to the feminist discourse brought on by various artists of the 20th century and to Tracey Emin’s very own grasp of the meaning of art, which “should be totally creative and open doors for new thoughts and experiences,” as the artist says.
In her long career, Tracey’s boldness and brutal honesty has attracted both critical attention and praise, as well as ferocious critique. This has not stopped collectors from appreciating her works, as we see in the chart below (fig. 3). Her turnover is very alive, and her works keep being sold for higher and higher prices.
Fig. 3 – Tracey Emin’s turnover from 2000 to 2023 (©Artprice.com)