A cleaner at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art apologised for the wet floors, ahead of the launch party: “She’s been here all week and she’s very nice, not what you’d expect. Very down to earth and chatty; although I’m not too sure of her work. I’m from the generation where you swept things like that under the carpet”. And the shocked looked of the cleaner, mirrors that of many visitors to Tracey Emin’s first major retrospective. There is no sweeping issues under the carpet here, as intimate mememtos and creations from Emin’s past adorn every room and every wall of this exhibition.
The early stages of the retrospective are especially heavy on intimate survivors from Emin’s past; whether these be sexually explicit scribbles, sexually explicit scrawlings or very personal artefacts such as the wristband Emin wore in hospital, following one of her well documented abortions. After a few minutes reading a few of the scrawlings enough was enough; yes the world can be a cruel place and yes there has been a lot of suffering. We get the picture.
Some of Emin’s work I really liked:
- Tiny photographs mounted on roughly cut fabric. The photographs are of Emin’s past work, which she destroyed after the 1990 abortion. They have an attractive, simple and intriguing quality - small peepholes to the artist’s past.
- It’s Not the Way I want to Die. This large rollercoaster track, built with reclaimed timber, has a simple, yet poignant charm.
- My Bed. The Turner Prize nominee, may no longer have the shock and awe which caused a stir in the national media in 1999, but this is a great opportunity for Scottish audiences to see what all the fuss was about. Personally I still find My Bed Emin’s most effective statement - it sums up what countless other artefacts in this retrospective build toward.
Some of Emin’s embroidered blankets also perked my interests, although the quantity included in this retrospective diluted the effect somewhat. ‘Exorcism of the Last Painting I Ever Made’ recreates the messy room, complete with copious bottles of empty alcohol, where Emin painted naked for fourteen days in 1996. It’s an interesting, yet somewhat flat, snapshot from Emin’s past.
Aside from the scribbles and scrawlings, some of Emin’s work is laughable. Perhaps this is its charm; perhaps it’s supposed to be nonsense. Emin’s homage to “The Scream” painting, a video where the artist is crouched on the end of the pier seemed a little ridiculous. As did some paintings. Though just when I thought my opinion was set I’d see a painting, or other artefact, which got me thinking again; many words will describe this retrospective, but consistency will not be one of them.
It’s impossible to decide if this is a bad, average, good or great exhibit; its probably each at some point, although some people will certainly stick to a single adjective. Tracey Emin: 20 years, rightly or wrongly, provokes discussion. For this alone it’s worth a visit.
Essential | Worth a watch | One to miss
Tracey Emin: 20 years runs until 9th November 2008, at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.