Magazine article The Spectator

Exhibitions: Tracey Emin, 'My Bed'/JMW Turner

Magazine article The Spectator

Exhibitions: Tracey Emin, 'My Bed'/JMW Turner

Article excerpt

In the 1880s the young Max Klinger made a series of etchings detailing the surreal adventures of a woman's glove picked up by a stranger at an ice rink. At a certain point the glove washes up, nightmarishly large, beside a sleeping man's bed on to which a shipwrecked sailor is desperately hauling himself. Storm-tossed billows merge with rumpled pillows in an image simply titled 'Angste'.

Klinger's nightmare vision came back to haunt me at the exhibition Tracey Emin, 'My Bed'/JMW Turner. Yes, you read that right. Since its loan to the Tate in 2015, Emin's most famous oeuvre has been partnered in exhibitions with the work of Francis Bacon at Tate Britain and William Blake at Tate Liverpool. Now it's the turn of JMW Turner at Turner Contemporary Margate -- and, astonishingly, the partnership works.

This is largely down to Emin's intervention in the choice of paintings. Rejecting the gallery's own selection, she has dredged from the depths of the Turner Bequest two of the artist's most expressionist seascapes: 'Rough Sea' (c.1840-45), a churning mass of bilious, white-flecked water, and 'Stormy Sea with Blazing Wreck' (c.1835-40), a canvas so black it could have been painted with pitch. Add a third painting, 'Seascape' (c.1835-40), in which a weak sun breaks through cloud, and the sequence charts the progress of Emin's dark night of the soul from pit of despair to breakthrough moment, when 'it stopped being horrific and started being beautiful'.

In previous passing encounters with 'My Bed' (1998), I've found myself more drawn to the two suitcases standing off to the side, lashed together with ropes and chains and tugging at the heartstrings with their talk of departure. This time, as a conscientious critic, I had a proper look. Prurient media attention has always focused on the feminine-hygiene items and bottles of booze, but the clutter includes other stuff of forensic interest. Here is a brief inventory (not exhaustive):

On the floor, a Duracell battery pack, empty; a carton of Marlboro Lights, empty; a soft toy dog; a rubber toothbrush; a tampon applicator; a tube of KY Jelly; a belt; three vodka bottles of different sizes, empty (two Absolut, one Stolichnaya); a bottle of Orangina, unopened, in which all the orange has drifted south; a pair of filthy fur-lined tartan slippers; a heap of tear-soaked tissues. On the bedside table, two blister packs of Anadin, empty; two condom sachets, full; a pile of loose change; a pack of Rizla; a champagne cork (where there's Stolly there's Bolly); an overflowing ashtray, topped with an ancient apple core; a ghostly Polaroid of the artist's face, reminding us that this confessional self-portrait predates the selfie. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.