It was the 1990s when artist Tracey Emin was emerging strongly in London in a group known as Young British Artists. At that time she used to roam the streets of the English city with a large bag full of sketch pads, packs of Marlboro Lights, Stella Artois beers and brandy. The first installations that brought her into the public imagination as one of the most influential visual artists were Everyone I Have Ever Slept With (1963-1995), a tent inside which she had embroidered the 102 names of lovers family members and two numbered aborted fetuses – part of the seminal 1997 London show Sensation – and My Bed (1998), a recreation of her life after a post-breakup psychological breakdown, complete with dirty sheets, empty vodka bottles and underwear smeared with menstrual blood. Her body in the course of her practice was tested in all emotional and affective facets. Emin returns to New York after seven years with Lovers Grave at White Cube, the interesting London gallery that represents her will open this time on Madison Avenue.
“What’s really good about the word art is that art is a word like love, or god, or whatever. It transcends so many things.”
The exhibition features 26 works, ranging from huge canvases depicting couples in the throes of love, to smaller, striated paintings of figures lined up in front of tombstones, to a bust of Nefertiti, the ancient Egyptian queen. The artist presents new questions on the theme of intimacy: what does it mean to die in the arms of someone you love? Images that bring to mind the remains of couples immortalized in the famous eruption of Pompeii. Emin’s work always orbits the exploration of self, in all its sad, voluptuous, wild and furious incarnations. The body is a field of experimentation and inquiry toward themes of affectivity; it is the source material from which to draw to understand the world. The themes of love, longing, loss and grief in Lovers Grave are not only told to create disarming and unashamedly emotional works, but are a true out-of-body manifestation. While, in fact, Emin’s practice has always ranged from drawing to painting, filmmaking, photography, sewing, sculpture, neon, and writing, in recent years it has focused more on painting, due to a life-threatening illness that has deeply affected the artist’s life, producing a strong impact on her artistic vision as well.
“My whole body longs to be embraced. I desperately want to love and be loved. I want my mind to float in another’s. I want to be freed from despair by the love I feel for another. I want to be physically part of someone else. I want to be united. I want to be open and free to explore every part of them, as if I were exploring myself.”
The concept ofLovers Grave originates from images of archaeological sites, human remains holding each other, seemingly locked in an eternal loving embrace. The concept that fascinates Emin is that of eternal devotion between two people, even in the afterlife, and she considers it one of the fundamental elements of life. The theme of resurrection has a particular resonance in Emin’s body of work: the painting The Beggining and The end of Everything (2023), where a female figure lies within a loosely delineated form can be read simultaneously as a bed, a shallow grave, or a vast topography of signs. The motif of The Death and the Maiden, in which the personification of the end confronts the vitality of life, is a prevalent theme throughout the works. In Is Nothing Sacred (2023), the supine figure lies in an attitude of supplication, witnessed by a dark presence in the room that, for the artist, is a real apparition. Themes of tumultuous love manifest themselves in works such as There was no Right way (2022), where vigorous gestures lay bare the contours of the body before disappearing into an abstract landscape. Small autobiographical details make their appearance in the exhibition as if they were a constellation, as in Another World (2023): a bust of the Egyptian princess Nefertiti sitting atop a piece of furniture in the artist’s bedroom or the geometric pattern of a Persian rug. In I went home (2023), Tracey Emin, tells us more about her life, introducing us to Margate, the new city where the artist has chosen to move to for the past year and where all her life plans are coming to fruition, including her Tracey Emin Foundation devoted to artist residencies.
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