Tracey Emin: More lovely than lame

Best known for “My Bed,” a 1998 installation featuring her personal effects (like stained underwear)  which earned her a nomination for the 1999 Turner Prize, Tracey Emin, now 50 and a Professor of Drawing at the Royal Academy in London, is sort of respectable.

This month Lehmann Maupin has mounted Emin exhibitions in their two NYC locations. Not surprisingly since she’s been teaching it for two years, drawing figures prominently in the shows, which include a series of tiny, limited-palette paintings and gouache drawings. In the back room in the Chelsea space, the show also boasts a neon sign and video of a small fox, but her heart seems most invested in the gestural drawings and small bronze sculptures, coated with a chalky white patina that gives them a clunky plaster-of-Paris look.   

In her (often maligned) exploration of emotional terrain, Emin continues to mine personal experience for subject matter. In an interview in the May issue of Modern Painters, Celine Millard asks Emin if most people are scared of their own feelings.

Yes. It�s a bit like karaoke. The people who are best at it are the people who can�t sing�they try their hardest. It�s endearing, it�s heartfelt, and you really feel it. If you are a professional artist and you have been doing what you are doing for 20 years and you have conviction behind what you do, then you should do it. You shouldn�t go, �I can�t really do a figure on a plastic pig, it�s a bit stupid.� There�s nothing cynical about it.

Tracey Emin

While many artists try to ignore the aging process, living in a perpetual thirty-something always-emerging zone, Emin has embraced the fact that she is growing old.

I�m 50. Sex, fecundity, all of those things are gone, they won�t come back. Love or whatever�affection or warmth might be there but not that lustful sort of desire, wanton. That�s never coming back, ever. It�s gone…

Tracey Emin

She talks about the bronze piece with the swan pictured above.

Have you read The Black Swan by Thomas Mann? You�ve got to read it. I had this intellectual crush on someone. You know when you are thinking all the time about what someone said to you, and you have this dialogue in your head? I went on one of those trips. But he didn�t feel the same way about me. We went to see a show together, and for a present he bought me Black Swan. It�s basically about a woman who falls in love with this young guy. She thinks that her periods have started again, and it�s like the elixir of love, she�s become young again, but in truth she�s got cancer of the womb, and within a couple of weeks, she�s dead. The complexity of the book is really interesting, especially from the point of view of a woman who is 50 and has an intellectual crush on someone much younger than herself. This is why I made this piece.

 Tracey Emin, installation view in Chelsea.

At Lehmann Maupin, Emin explores learning and self-perception with her customary flatfooted honesty. Taking a cue from bad karaoke singers, she flaunts her shortcomings, inspiring both love and loathing in her audience (as usual). But the show, Emin’s small-scale paintings at the Chelsea location in particular, are more lovely than lame–and certainly worth checking out.

Tracey Emin: I Followed You to The Sun,” Lehmann Maupin Gallery, Chelsea and LES, New York, NY. Through June 22, 2013.

Related posts:
David Hockney slams Tracey Emin’s Venice Biennale paintings
Reactionary painter puts money where his mouth is


  1. i love the sculptures and the words scrawled…but the drawings just don't carry any visual or emotional interest to me….except that they are meant to look innocent I suppose. But they don't have the simple sincerity like a novice singer at Karaoke does, as she suggests.

  2. Tracy went to goldsmiths college..the RA is a small ma program in central london that is self financed. Tracy is a royal academician which means she gets to hang out and go to functions..she is pretty good at her job..flogging student work and being an english art celebrity..

  3. She didn't go to Goldsmiths, she went to the Royal College of Art.

  4. Thanks for the clarification. Post has been updated.

  5. "She graduated in fine arts from the Maidstone College of Art in 1986, and was awarded an MA in painting by the Royal College of Art in 1989."


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