London has a love-hate relationship with the YBAs (Young British Artists) in general, and with Tracey Emin in particular, perhaps because she is perpetual fodder for the scandal-seeking tabloids. The girl from Margate turned art super star combines the excess of Kate Moss with the tragedy of Lady Di rolled into one messy package and while London loves her, there’s a sense in this unrelentingly class-stratified town that they’ll never forgive her for daring to overstep her status. (And make a truckload of money doing so.) Emin, like Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas and the Chapman Brothers are now heading towards middle-age faster than a molotov cocktail; the term ‘YBA’ once denoted infamy, now it it has a scarcastic undercurrent.
Emin’s last show, Those Who Suffer Love, at White Cube may have pleased the die-hard fan, but we found it disappointing. To quote Basquiat, it felt a bit SAMO (Same Old Shit). I came out feeling disappointed that Emin, a woman approaching 50 and presumably reaching her maturity as an artist, didn’t seem to have anything new to say. Was she becomming a caricature of her YBA self? (C’mon Tracey, you can do it.)
For this reason, we’re excited about the artist’s retrospective Love is What you Want that opens tomorrow at the Hayward Gallery for the summer season. Having dipped into her work over the years – from the Duchamp-like miniatures ironically entitled ‘My Major Retrospective’ that included tiny replicas of works created for her graduation show (the originals were destroyed), to her very unlady-like experiments with embroidery, her curious collaboration (Do Not Abandon Me) with the late Louise Bourgeois, to the numerous neon statements that grace many a London pub, Emin is an artist that fascinates. Emin’s shows are always intensely and unflinchingly personal – part gory movie, part tear-jerker, you may have the urge to view it through your fingers. While Emin’s work draws on the personal and the themes are universal her art seems anchored in a place: London. A great excuse to visit the city this summer.
For a post-show de-brief, have a shandy (or three) at the Golden Heart in Spitalfields, one of Emin’s old drinking haunts (110 Commercial Street, London, E1 6LZ).
Tracey Emin: Love is What you Want: 18 May –29 August 2011, at the Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, London.
Postscript: The Sunday Times arts writer, Waldemar Januszczak, reviewed Emin’s show with the following quote: “Starting with a splutter of juicy swearwords and explicit sexual admissions, and ending with a splutter of juicy swearwords and explicit sexual admissions, with plenty of juicy swearwords and explicit sexual admissions in between, this is not a show for the culturally demure or anyone who does not like pubic hair.” (Bring it on!)