Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Lost without Trace: Fisun Guner Explains Why You Should Care about the Doyenne of Britart

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Lost without Trace: Fisun Guner Explains Why You Should Care about the Doyenne of Britart

Article excerpt

Tracey Emin: Love Is What You Want

Hayward Gallery, London SE1

The publicity image for Tracey Emin's first major London retrospective is of the rangy artist running naked down a narrow, cobbled street while holding aloft a Union Jack. All we can see of her are the backs of her legs and the enviably pert bottom. She may not be everyone's idea of "International Woman" (one of her appliqued noms deplume), but that flag billows behind her like a superhero cape.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

It's an image that embodies the Britart phenomenon: the YBAs were exuberant, wildly self-confident and driven by a bold entrepreneurial spirit that often made up for the ama-teurishess of their endeavours. Before we cross the threshold of the Hayward for this mid-career survey (Emin is now 48, which is as good an age as any to have one), it all seems so very - yawn - familiar. What more is there to learn about a celebrity artist who, many would say, has already confessed too much?

Despite expectations, however, this feels like a fresh and poignant exhibition. Co-curated by Carl Lauson and the Hayward's director, Ralph Rugoff, it compellingly argues that, seen as a whole, Emin's oeuvre is far greater than the sum of its parts. It is also one of the saddest shows I've been to in a long time.

Although there are echoes of the good-time (if deeply chaotic) Emin of old - a hot-pink neon sign on one wall reads "Is legal sex anal?" - this is really an exhibition that overturns her brash image. What sums it up more truthfully is a tiny self-portrait called From. …

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