‘My Bed’ (1998) by Tracey Emin generated a media furore upon its initial unveiling and it has undoubtedly become one of the most divisive pieces of British modern art of the past two decades.
The installation has arrived in the north of England for the first time as the centrepiece of a new exhibition which focuses on the work of Tracey Emin within the context of the 19th Century artist, poet and philosopher William Blake.
Displayed in unique settings, the famous installation is set against the backdrop of many of Blake’s reprinted pieces, such as ‘Pity’ (c. 1795), Frontispiece to ‘Visions of the Daughters of Albion’ (c. 1795) and ‘Elohim Creating Adam’ (1795 – c. 1805). This combination allows visitors to view the similarities between the two artists.
The large room where the bed sits has been adapted specifically for this exhibition and modified by Emin and Darren Pih, the curator, to heighten the overall experience.
Blood red walls surround the installation in an aim to highlight the ‘theatrical experience of life’, allowing visitors to forensically examine the work as if it were a crime scene.
It’s clear why the installation is so contentious but, rather than dismissing it as a mundane functional object, the piece does provide an intimate look inside the mind of Emin during the late 1990s. Art is meant to reflect the world and so for this reason the installation should be celebrated as it embodies different kinds of raw emotions.
‘My Bed’ resonates as a very moving, natural and private display of selfhood, but there is also an element of sadness which can be detected as the piece represents what once was – a certain state of mind that no longer exists and an empty space where a person once lay beneath its sheets.
Visitors have to look beyond the newspapers and empty bottles of vodka scattered around the bed to truly appreciate the bed as a metaphor for life, death, relationships and spirituality in the context of Blake. The reprinted Blake pieces hanging on the walls behind the display certainly help to achieve this although, at times, it is difficult to associate some of the works with Emin’s art. More information about how each of Blake’s individual pieces relate to Emin’s may have been helpful.
Emin’s recent work is displayed at the far end of the exhibition space and includes the 2014 pieces ‘All for You’ (2014), ‘I Could Feel You’ (2014) and ‘Just Waiting’ (2014), which were presented by the artist in 2015 as part of her Gouache on paper series.
The exhibition has already had a considerable amount of interest, with long queues quickly forming in Tate Liverpool’s entrance as the exhibition was set to open to the public for the first time.
Emin’s ‘My Bed’ could easily be the stand alone piece in this exhibition as it is clearly the focal point of the entire display. Regardless of how visitors feel about her work, Emin’s iconic ‘My Bed’ is always going to trigger a divisive response and that should be reason enough to visit Tate Liverpool – it is not often that artwork provokes such admiration, as well as such disdain.
Visitors need to go and see the unique exhibition to make up their own minds and interpret the installation whilst it is in front of them.
Tate Liverpool’s latest exhibition is now open and runs until 3 September 2017. Entry is free.