Tracey Emin's Major Exhibitions

Written by - Lucy Howie
She Watched by Tracey EminShe Watched © Tracey Emin, 2017
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Tracey Emin's art has shocked and stunned the art world since the early 90s. From the White Cube art gallery to the Royal Academy of Arts, in this article we take a look at the major Tracey Emin exhibitions from throughout the artist's career.

My Major Retrospective 1963-1993 (1993, White Cube)

This ironically titled exhibition was Tracey Emin’s first major solo exhibition, in which she displayed a collection of random objects from her childhood years.

The exhibition encapsulated Tracey Emin’s love of satirising the art world itself; the title makes fun of the narcissism of a “retrospective” exhibition, instead choosing to make normal everyday objects appear as major pieces of art. This included teenage diaries, souvenirs, toys and memorabilia, as well as paintings, drawings, and tiny photographs of her art-school paintings.

Tracey Emin also displayed the first quilt that she had made (Hotel International, 1993) and many pieces of family memorabilia, including such items as a packet of cigarettes her uncle was holding when he was decapitated in a car crash.

Even from the very start of her career, the funny yet painful self awareness that characterised Tracey Emin’s later work are present, as well as her ability to shock and disgust the viewer.

Turner Prize Shortlist (1999, Tate Gallery)

The piece that compounded Tracey Emin’s controversial fame was My Bed, which was exhibited as one of the pieces shortlisted for the 1998 Turner Prize.

A hallmark of contemporary art, the piece consisted of Emin’s unmade bed covered with bodily fluids, stained underwear, condoms and empty alcohol bottles, inspired by a period of suicidal depression that the artist suffered after a troubled relationship. My Bed caused a media storm, with critics furiously debating whether it could be considered “art”.

Although the British artist didn’t win the prize, the piece became notorious, selling to Charles Saatchi in 2000 for £150,000 and then securing over £2.5 million at Christie’s in 2014.

Every Part of Me’s Bleeding (1999, Lehmann Maupin Gallery)

Emin’s first US solo exhibition in 1999 was a landmark of her early career, and included her infamous piece Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995 or The Tent (1994), a canvas tent with the names of everyone she had ever “slept” with embroidered into it. As well as sexual partners, this included the names of her brother, parents and two unnamed foetuses (based on two traumatic abortions that Tracey Emin had in her 20s, which led to her destroying all the work she had produced as a graduate student at the Royal College of Art).

Tracey Emin's exhibition also included an actual beach hut, from a past vacation spot of Tracey Emin's friend artist Sarah Lucas, Tracey Emin and a former boyfriend, which had been taken apart and then reassembled in the gallery.

Charles Saatchi acquired The Tent in 1999, but it was later destroyed in a fire in the East Momart warehouse in 2004, alongside over 100 other works in the Saatchi collection. Tracey Emin was offered £1 million to remake The Tent after the fire but refused.

This is Another Place (Modern Art Oxford, 2002)

Emin’s first British exhibition since 1997 was held at the newly reopened and renamed Modern Art Oxford.

The exhibition included some of Emin’s classic neon pieces, including the intriguingly titled Fuck off and die you slag, as well as drawings, etchings and a large sculpture of a wooden pier entitled Knowing My Enemy, with a wooden shack on top made of reclaimed timber. The shack contained only one item; a letter from the artist’s father, with the same title as the piece itself, detailing his problems with drink, smoking, gambling and sex.

Borrowed Light (2007, Venice Biennale)

Tracey Emin was chosen to produce a show of past and new works to represent Great Britain at the 52nd Venice Biennale, the international cultural exhibition hosted annually in Venice.

She produced new work especially for the show, using a wide variety of media – from needlework, photography and video to drawing, painting, sculpture and neon, including the neon sign Legs I. Emin commented of the exhibition: “Borrowed Light is my most feminine body of work so far, very sensual but at the same time it is graphically sharp. It is both pretty and hardcore.”

Twenty Years (2008, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art)

This exhibition was the first major retrospective of Emin’s work and attracted over 40,000 contemporary art lovers to Edinburgh. As well as displaying the famous My Bed, the exhibition included the room sized installation Exorcism of the Last Painting I Ever Made, consisting of several canvases adorned with Emin’s trademark abstract figures and revealing slogans, as well as open pots of paint and half-painted rolls of paper.

The Scottish National Gallery was the only UK venue for the exhibition which went on to Malaga, Spain and Bern, Switzerland in 2009.

Emin gifted a sculpture, Roman Standard, to the gallery as a show of gratitude to both the venue and the city of Edinburgh. The work consists of a 13 foot tall bronze pole topped with a small bronze bird, and is estimated to be worth £75,000.

Love is What you Want (2011, Hayward Gallery)

This retrospective at the Hayward Gallery in London covered a range of works from Emin’s career, from 16 different neon sculptures to memorabilia and drawings and photographs focused around sex.

Family featured as a key theme in the exhibition, which displayed fabrics from Emin’s clothes as well as pieces made from her grandmother’s nightgown and fabrics from her childhood.

She also made a new series of outdoor sculptures specifically for the show.

These are the kind of structures that I have dreams about, that exist somehow in my intuitive memory, and so for me to be able to construct them and see what they really look like is like a dream coming true for me.

The Loneliness of the Soul (2020, Royal Academy)

This exhibition at the Royal Academy was unique in that it displayed Emin’s work alongside one of her greatest influences, the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch, most famous for his piece “The Scream”. Emin selected 19 of Munch’s works to be displayed alongside her own, inviting viewers to draw comparisons between their graphic nudes and portraits of disturbed women. The exhibition was accompanied by a show at the White Cube Gallery in London which included a short Super-8 film in tribute to Munch.

Emin had suffered an aggressive cancer the year before the exhibition, and her focus on the destruction of the female body is even more prominent than usual, including pieces like Ruined (2007) and the neon piece My Cunt is Wet with Fear (1998). The exhibition also included small bronze statues of birds and female nudes which expressed a vulnerability rare in Emin’s work.

The exhibition was re-shown at the newly opened Munch Museum in Oslo, with Emin being the first artist to exhibit alongside Munch, and included My Bed alongside her more recent paintings.

I Lay Here For You (2022, Jupiter Artland)

This ongoing exhibition is set across the galleries and gardens of Jupiter Artland, a sculpture park near Edinburgh, and is Emin’s first solo show in Scotland in over a decade. Its title is taken from that of its central piece, an enormous bronze figure of a woman curled up onto her side.

Unlike much of Emin’s work, the sculpture is displayed outside, forcing the viewer to think about the woman’s position in nature as well as her fragile form. Human form dominates the other works in the exhibition, which include a series of lithographs overlaid in Indian ink, depicting a couple clinging to each other on a bed and lone figures outlined with minimal brush strokes.

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