Best known for “My Bed,” a 1998 installation featuring her personal effects (like stained underwear) which earned her a nomination for the 1999 Turner Prize, Tracey Emin, now 50 and a Professor of Drawing at the Royal Academy in London, is sort of respectable.
This month Lehmann Maupin has mounted Emin exhibitions in their two NYC locations. Not surprisingly since she’s been teaching it for two years, drawing figures prominently in the shows, which include a series of tiny, limited-palette paintings and gouache drawings. In the back room in the Chelsea space, the show also boasts a neon sign and video of a small fox, but her heart seems most invested in the gestural drawings and small bronze sculptures, coated with a chalky white patina that gives them a clunky plaster-of-Paris look.
In her (often maligned) exploration of emotional terrain, Emin continues to mine personal experience for subject matter. In an interview in the May issue of Modern Painters, Celine Millard asks Emin if most people are scared of their own feelings.
Yes. It’s a bit like karaoke. The people who are best at it are the people who can’t sing—they try their hardest. It’s endearing, it’s heartfelt, and you really feel it. If you are a professional artist and you have been doing what you are doing for 20 years and you have conviction behind what you do, then you should do it. You shouldn’t go, “I can’t really do a figure on a plastic pig, it’s a bit stupid.” There’s nothing cynical about it.
While many artists try to ignore the aging process, living in a perpetual thirty-something always-emerging zone, Emin has embraced the fact that she is growing old.
I’m 50. Sex, fecundity, all of those things are gone, they won’t come back. Love or whatever—affection or warmth might be there but not that lustful sort of desire, wanton. That’s never coming back, ever. It’s gone…
She talks about the bronze piece with the swan pictured above.
Have you read The Black Swan by Thomas Mann? You’ve got to read it. I had this intellectual crush on someone. You know when you are thinking all the time about what someone said to you, and you have this dialogue in your head? I went on one of those trips. But he didn’t feel the same way about me. We went to see a show together, and for a present he bought me Black Swan. It’s basically about a woman who falls in love with this young guy. She thinks that her periods have started again, and it’s like the elixir of love, she’s become young again, but in truth she’s got cancer of the womb, and within a couple of weeks, she’s dead. The complexity of the book is really interesting, especially from the point of view of a woman who is 50 and has an intellectual crush on someone much younger than herself. This is why I made this piece.
“Tracey Emin: I Followed You to The Sun,” Lehmann Maupin Gallery, Chelsea and LES, New York, NY. Through June 22, 2013.