Magazine article The Spectator

More of 'Me'

Magazine article The Spectator

More of 'Me'

Article excerpt

You Forgot to Kiss My Soul (White Cube2, 48 Hoxton Square, N1, till 26 May)

New Labour (Saatchi Gallery, 98A Boundary Road, NW8, till 19 August)

A while ago I ran into an old school friend who, discovering what I did these days, asked me what I thought of all this dreadful contemporary art. He supposed I condemned it. I was forced to admit that I had grown to like, even admire some of the outrageous stuff he had in mind. But surely, my friend went on, not Tracey Emin. There he had me. I really don't know what to think about Tracey Emin, and I wasn't much further forward after visiting the current exhibition You Forgot to Kiss My Soul at White Cube'.

This is a good deal better than previous displays of her work I have seen, for example the notorious one for the Turner Prize two years ago at which her bed first appeared. It is better integrated, and better arranged. But, essentially, it is more of the same. Most prominent are some bits of agreeably worn Margate bathing-hut type architecture alluding to the Emin past (extensively documented in interviews, profiles and her own work). Within these are a couple of videos at which you have to peer as if at one of those antediluvian machines on the pier. All around are her embroideries, drawings, a couple of pensees in neon, something that looks like a hugely enlarged wood-cut - and all of it, naturally, about her.

The embroideries take the form of cris de coeur, splattered with obscenity, which gives them a contemporary edge. `Come unto me' goes the least obscene, but most blasphemous one, `Everytime I fall in love I think Christ I am going to be crucified. So I close my eyes and become the cross. So Beautifull.' (It's characteristic of the artist that you aren't quite sure whether that final '1' is accidental or on purpose.)

The show is given unity by the seaside mood. The neon - including the cringe-- making title of the show - fits into this stroll-along-the-prom feeling. Even her scratchy little drawings, with their mottoes, have a homemade greetings card look. But if you are not fascinated by the romance of Tracey, there's not much here for you. And I am just not sufficiently interested either in her emotionally hyper-sensitive side 'every moment of reality is a balance' nor in the aggressive, streetwise face (there is a video on show in which a menacing, leather-jacketed Emin tries to kick in the door of a more timorous one, perhaps alluding to this split).

In a way, contrary to my school friend's supposition and despite provocative pieces such as her notorious bed, she is an oldfashioned sort of artist. She produces figurative drawings, she used to paint quite well, in her general approach she is an expressionist. It seems likely that, if her favourite artist, Munch, were to be reincarnated, he too would start making videos in which he recounted all the terrible things that had happened to him, and how ghastly he felt. As it was, he was obliged to put it all on canvas. To succeed, expressionist art requires more distance, more formal coherence than Emin has yet managed.

On the other hand, in the age of the personality cult, she thrives. She advertises gin, massive profile/interview pieces appear in the broadsheets, Private Eye runs a cartoon strip largely based on her. …

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