Preview: Tracy Emin and William Blake in Focus

Preview: Tracy Emin and William Blake in Focus

Coming up at Tate Liverpool is an installation which shocked the world: Tracy Emin’s My Bed.

Serving as both a portrait of the artist, and the young woman, Emin’s bed saw her nominated for the 1999 Turner Prize. It was later sold for £2.5 million and is the quintessential ‘but is it art?’ work.

The presentation of the piece falls into Tate Liverpool’s display titled: Tracy Emin and William Blake in Focus. Running from 16 September 2016 until 3 September 2017, the exhibition focuses on connections between Emin and Blake in terms of artistic authenticity.

The works share concerns of spirituality, birth, and death. Having been supportive of the freedom of expression, William Blake stood against the hypocrisies of his age and freely expressed his own voice through his poetry and art. His Romantic idea of artistic authenticity is exemplified through his fascination with spiritual rebirth. Tate Liverpool aims to connect many of Blake’s renowned works, from The Blasphemer c.1800 to The Crucifiction: ‘Behold Thy Mother’ c.1805, to the absent figure in Tracy Emin’s art.

Perceptions of My Bed have long transitioned from 1998. Initially viewed for its shock value, the work is now praised for its projection of how time affects us all. Visually, My Bed is quite simply Emin’s own bed. However, surrounded by objects and laced with promiscuity, the bed serves as an artistic symbol of both womanhood and liberation. From used condoms, to stained sheets, to empty bottles of alcohol, to disregarded goods, the piece acts as a snapshot of one’s life after a damaging relationship breakdown. Despite her physical presence, Emin’s own personal portrait could not be more apparent, making the piece highly powerful.

Viewers of the work are able to gain a true sense of Emin’s thematic preoccupations, as well as its changes aligning with history. Emin herself said that as times change and society changes, “I think people will see [the bed] differently as they see me differently. There are things on that bed that now have a place in history.” Whilst My Bed was initially perceived by many as brazenly narcissistic, the abstract piece arguably filtered down into society, influencing trendy cultures to apply a kind of shock value to our lifestyles. Though the ability to shock viewers of My Bed is less likely in our current society, it has nonetheless shaped the world of contemporary art, and influenced the abstract aspects of modern society.

My Bed continues to hold the power in any room. Following its display in Tracy Emin and William Blake in Focus at Tate Liverpool, My Bed will be shown at Turner Contemporary in Margate, Emin’s home town. Tracy Emin and William Blake in Focus will be open to the public from 16 September 2016.


Tracey Emin, born 1963

My Bed 1998

Box frame, mattress, linens, pillows and various objects

Overall display dimensions variable

Lent by The Duerckheim Collection 2015

 © Tracey Emin

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