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Polaroids

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Critical Review

Tracey Emin is as versatile an artist as they come. Throughout her decades-long career, the artist has experimented with just about every medium from painting and drawing to neons and installation art. The works within the Polaroids collection attest to the ways Emin has engaged with filmmaking, photography and performance to carry along with her telling investigation into her emotional life in art.

Each work in the collection was born out of either a performance or film project, which the artist has produced often in collaboration with White Cube. I’ve Got It All is perhaps one of the most interesting works within this collection. Coming at a time when the artist had reached world visibility and financial success - in part due to the scandalous installation, My Bed - this piece conflated Emin’s desire for money with her desire for sexual satisfaction. Explored also throughout her Nude Self-Portraits collection, there is a focus on the artist’s longing for intimacy and sexual fulfilment.

The work is interesting for its juxtaposition of Emin’s duplicitous exploration of consumerism, a subject dear to the contemporary and modern art world. In the image, Emin presents herself as both the consumer longing for money, and the maker of consumer goods, gesturing to the ambivalent and oftentimes contested status of art as a commodity within the art world.

Similarly, the lithographs Love Is A Strange Thing and Sometimes The Dress Is Worth More Than The Money present snapshots from Emin’s eponymous films, presented together at White Cube in 2019 on the occasion of the show A Fortnight of Tears. While the first one recounts an encounter between Emin and her dog, the second presents Emin dressed in a white pompous gown as she runs across a deserted field, with a spaghetti western soundtrack accompanying her escape. Sewn on Emin’s white dress are many banknotes. Once again, Emin explores the controversial theme of money and consumerism - this time in relation to love and the institution of marriage - despite the meaning of the film being intentionally left ambiguous.

Finally, in Tattoo and Sometimes I Feel Beautiful, the confessional, intimate and private quality of Emin’s works re-emerge with full intensity. In Sometimes I feel Beautiful, the artist is laying in a bathtub, her head reclined, facing upwards, her eyes closed. The naked body of Emin is partly concealed by the water and partly revealed. In Tattoo, the artist gathers images of her tattoo, once again partially disclosing her vulnerable body to the viewer.

Presenting a wide array of themes and subjects, Emin’s Polaroids take the viewer across a journey into a particularly prolific moment of production for the artist, presenting her more-characteristic intimate works side by side with new and intriguing formal as well as thematic explorations.