Tracey Emin show at the Hayward Gallery

We decided to take a trip to Southbank to see the Tracey Emin show that opened this week at the Hayward Gallery, Love Is What You Want.

Now in the past I’ve been fairly cool to Emin. She is one of the so-called group of Young British Artists (YBAs) who took over the scene here in the UK in the 1980’s and 90’s. The Wikipedia article will tell you more than you probably wanted to know about her. The first exposure I had to her work was My Bed, the unmade bed she submitted for the Turner Prize in 1997. The bed, unmade, was covered and surrounded by various detritus from her life and loves, such as condoms and sanitary articles. She didn’t win, but My Bed made her reputation.

She is very well-educated as an artist, and her technique is exquisite when she paints in oil, for example. But much of her work is exhibiting found objects, quilts with words sewn on them, neons, some of which are texts, and some of which are portraits, and films. Her subject is herself. More than any other artist of whom I can think her works portray Tracey Emin in words, pictures, films, and found objects.

Every artist puts a lot of him or herself in their work. But Emin is totally self-portraying. You might think this is selfish, or short-sighted. For some artists it might have been so. But not with Emin. Her portrayal of herself is absorbing. You want to go around the corner to learn more about her. Yes, she is self-absorbed. But it is a self-absorption that is creative.

There is one 22-minute film in the exhibition where the camera and microphone follow Emin as she walks around the Euston area recalling her abortion. While it makes you cringe, at the end of it you have been able to crawl into Emin’s mind in a way that other artists don’t permit. Her mind turns out to be a strange mix of innocence and beauty with sordidness and filth. The female body (and to a much lesser extent, the penis) figure largely in her drawings and neons. She is a highly sexual woman and exposes that sexuality for everyone to see. Children should probably either be prepared for the exhibition (the birds and bees probably need to be explained pretty thoroughly) or left with their Granny.

There is a goodly amount of regret in the exhibition. I think that she regrets having abortions and some of the other choices she’s made in her life. However, she expresses this regret with eloquence and verity.

I want to go and see it again. There was one blanket with a religious theme that reduced me to tears. I need to go and see that again. If you are in London or within hailing distance of London, go and see it. An exhibition of this magnitude only comes along once a decide or so for every artist.

2 Responses to “Tracey Emin show at the Hayward Gallery”

  1. leejean says:

    Wish I’m there

  2. chrishansenhome says:

    Well, save up your pennies and come to London. We’ll put you up, and we’re walking distance from the gallery.