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Tracey Emin (b.1963)
The British multimedia artist Tracey Karima Emin RA emerged in the late 1980s as a member of the Young British Artists movement, led by Damien Hirst and supported by the patronage of millionaire avant-garde art collector Charles Saatchi. Familiar with a wide variety of visual arts, including video and installation, photography, drawing, painting, needlework and sculpture, Emin is known for her controversial works of postmodernist art which have brought her considerable notoriety, far beyond the narrow confines of the art world. These works include the installations Everyone I have Ever Slept With 1963-1995 (1995, formerly Saatchi collection, now destroyed), My Bed (1998, Saatchi collection) - both of which are based on the use of "found objects" (in this case with a "personal history") - and The Last Thing I Said To You is Don't Leave Me Here (1999). She was a Turner Prize nominee in 1999. Her works of public art include Roman Standard, a bronze sculpture of a small bird adjacent to Liverpool Cathedral. A regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy, Emin also showed at the Venice Biennale in 2007, the same year she was elected a full member of the Royal Academy. Despite her artistic talent, it is Emin's postmodernist aesthetics that rankle. It is her deliberate attempts to shock the public by creating highly explicit feminist art, or by incorporating obscene words into the titles of her works, or by publicising the fact she works in the nude, that remain at the heart of her creative image. This, together with her uncompromisingly avant-garde attitude to art, has not made it easy for art critics to judge her purely on the basis of her art. For details of other postmodernists, see: Top Contemporary Artists.
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Emin was born in Croydon, Surrey, to an unmarried partnership of a Turkish Cypriot property investor and English mother. At the age of three she and her twin brother moved with their mother to the seaside town of Margate where her father owned the Hotel International. Unfortunately, the business failed, causing a severe decline in Emin family's standard of living. Then, allegedly, in her early teens she was raped. Both these autobiographical events have figured in her works. At 17, she studied fashion at Medway College of Design (19801982), where she began a long-term relationship with the Stuckist painter Billy Childish. In 1984 she enrolled in a printing course at the Maidstone College of Art, from which she graduated in 1986. The following year she went to London to take a Masters degree in painting at the Royal College of Art, which she hated. Her influences at this timeincluded Byzantine religious frescoes, the neurotic Norwegian expressionist Edvard Munch and the Viennese depressive Egon Schiele. Later she studied philosophy for a short period at Birkbeck College, University of London.
In 1993, Emin and fellow artist Sarah Lucas, opened "The Shop in Bethnal Green" in order to retail their artworks including T-shirts and ash trays. In 1993, Emin had her first solo exhibition, entitled My Major Retrospective 1963-93, at the White Cube gallery, one of London's notable contemporary art galleries. Highly autobiographical, exhibits featured personal photographs, and a number of very intimate items, like the packet of cigarettes her uncle was holding when he was killed in a car accident. This willingness to share elements of her private life was to become a hallmark of Emin's art career.
In 1995, she had a solo show entitled Minky Manky curated by her partner, Carl Freedman. One of her exhibits was the installation Everyone I have Ever Slept With 1963-1995 (1995), a blue tent, appliqued with the names of about 90 people she had "slept" with, many of whom were relatives and other platonic partners. The work was later purchased by Charles Saatchi and featured in the 1997 Sensation exhibition at the Royal Academy of London which later toured to Berlin and New York. (Eventually it was destroyed when Saatchi's east London warehouse burned down, in 2004.) After the Sensation exhibition Emin achieved considerable notoriety when she appeared intoxicated on a live Channel 4 TV discussion program.
In 1999, Emin became a nominee for the prestigious Turner Prize for contemporary art for her 1998 work My Bed - an installation commemorating an emotional crisis which featured her own unmade dirty bed complete with used condoms and blood-stained underwear. The bed was exhibited exactly as it had been when she had slept in it for several days feeling suicidal due to relationship problems. This subsequently became her most famous work. See also Turner Prize Winners.
Other Works of Art By Tracey Emin
Modern Art Oxford
In November 2002, Emin had a solo show entitled This Is Another Place at Modern Art Oxford, marking the reopening and rebranding of the museum. Emin's first exhibition in Britain since 1997, it featured drawings, etchings, sculptures, film and neon works.
The Momart Fire
In May 2004, a fire in a Momart warehouse in East London obliterated many works of art owned by the Charles Saatchi collection, including Emin's famous tent Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 19631995 ("The Tent") (1995) and The Last Thing I Said To You Is Don't Leave Me Here ("The Hut") (1999). The fire appeared to cause amusement rather than sympathy among the public.
In March 2007, after being invited to exhibit her art at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibitions in 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004 and 2001, Emin was elected an academician to the Royal Academy in London. In the same year she represented Britain at the 2007 Venice Biennale. Also in 2007, Emin had a solo exhibition at Gagosian Gallery in Los Angeles, which showcased new sculptures in wood and jesmonite, cast bronze figures of animals, and objects combining cement and glass. In 2008, her first major retrospective entitled 20 Years was staged at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh, attracting over 40,000 visitors, and breaking the gallery's attendance record for an exhibition by a living artist. In 2008-9, the exhibition toured the Centro de Arte Contemporaneo in Malaga, Spain and then the Kunstmuseum in Bern, Switzerland. In 2008, Emin curated one of the galleries at the summer Royal Academy show, to considerable acclaim.
Now established as one of the leading postmodernist artists in Britain, Tracey Emin's works are represented in several important museums of contemporary art, and also a number of private art collections owned by celebrities including: Elton John, George Michael, Jerry Hall, Naomi Campbell, Orlando Bloom, and Ronnie Wood.
The Meaning of Tracey Emin's Art
A tough upbringing, multi-racial issues, a scarcity of iconic males, a conventional provincial home town - were these factors which ignited Emin's obvious rebellion? Whatever the truth, it's clear that a good deal of her art is personal and autobiographical. Moreover, many of the objects that make up her art are charged with an actual experience - love, farewell, depression, and the like - which makes them unique. The more personal her art, the better it seems - to me, at least. That said, Emin - along with other famous figures like Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst - represents postmodernism in all its glory (and banality).
For more information about postmodernism, see: Homepage.
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF VISUAL ARTISTS