Louisa Buck: Emin's bitter-sweet memories of unmade bed

Tracey Emin was in an emotional mood on Monday morning as she presided over the return of her infamous My Bed to Millbank, 16 years after it was first unveiled in what was then the Tate Gallery (now Tate Britain) amidst a wave of controversy at the 1999 Turner Prize. (The work has been loaned to Tate for ten years by its new owner Christian Duerckheim.)

Emin's My Bed

Although declaring: “I feel like the cat that’s got the cream” that the work has “come home” (and at her request is keeping company with two paintings by Francis Bacon from Tate’s collection), Emin also wiped away tears, saying: “I’m 52, nearly… there are so many things about that bed that have no place in my life any more… it’s a time capsule of a young woman living in the 90s in a really wild way. It’s not just sad, but how that bed came about was through sadness. It’s also about being in the worst situation in your life but being able to pull through and get out to the other side.” She also raised a few laughs by pointing to a belt lying by the bed and declaring “I’d be lucky if that fitted around my thigh now—it used to fit around my waist.”

But Emin was dry-eyed when asked whether, on the day of Parliament’s dissolution in the run in to the general election, she would be supporting her fellow artist Bob and Roberta Smith (whose 1993 video work Humiliate is currently playing in the next room to My Bed) who is standing as an independent candidate against former education secretary Michael Gove and the government’s arts policies. Despite stating her belief that “art is the soul of this country… if I hadn’t had art in school I would be dead by now”, she nonetheless expressed her confidence in the current government’s cultural track record and confirmed that she would be voting Conservative on 7 May. “I like David Cameron,” Emin said.

Published Tue, 31 Mar 2015 12:02:00 GMT

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Louisa Buck

Louisa Buck is The Art Newspaper’s contemporary art correspondent and the co-author of Owning Art: The Contemporary Art Collector's Handbook and Commissioning Contemporary Art. A Handbook for Curators, Collectors and Artists.