Growing Older with Tracy Emin: A Future-Thought for Emerging Artists

Bed, slightly used. £1,000,000 or Next Best Offer. 
Or, Growing Older with Tracy Emin: A Future-Thought for Emerging ArtistsIf Wikipedia weren’t so damn credible about it all, I’d scarcely believe that Tracy Emin (C.B.E, R.A, etc) is turning 51 this year. They’ve got her date of birth and everything. I’d like to believe it slipped my mind but, actually, I think I forgot to take note in the first place. Only the most proactive of Pub Quiz teams has this kind of info at quick recall, right?It’s slightly numbing to be prodded for the first time with the idea that someone historically categorised as “Young” – with all that a capital Y implies – is actually old enough to be your mother. But I’m taking it well. No nausea, no sweating. Just that slightly chilling knowledge that I too will one day have someone turn around a go “oh, you’re fifty now?”I guess there’s one consolation for Ms. Emin in all of this discussing-a-lady’s-age (not strictly cricket, I realise), in that it comes with the news that My Bed (1998) is going up for auction and is reasonably expected to fetch somewhere between £8,000,000 to £1,200,000 ($1.7m or so). Christie’s reckons it’s under-valued, the auctioneer being torn between, it seeing it as seminal piece of late 20th-century British sculpture (which it is), and a big pile of touring laundry, tampons and cigarette butts (which it is). It’s not the kind of thing they value often, I suppose.We were starting out as Art Students at the time when My Bed had received a lot of attention (not even a decade past) and it was generally still regarded as being pretty cutting-edge and contentious. It was what people talked about when they talked about Modern Art. When I told concerned relatives about how I spent my time they’d say “Tracy Emin’s Bed” a lot. Thinking about it, they still do. If Christie considers the cultural impact in it’s evaluation at all then they’re certainly underselling: its real worth lies in its unassailable place in the canon of British Art and a certain shorthand for the assumed state of our culture. No one really seems to mind that it was first (un)made when I was really into The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. It’s got sticking power it seems.

These days “The Bed” is stored and transported about in little jiffy bags – the condoms and panties ziploc’d up and numbered – all ready to be deployed by the artist. In a flurry of reverse forensics the crime scene is reconstructed time and again, a sculptural time capsule of when we were young and hanging out with Billy Childish. Maybe if it sells for megabucks the Bed’ll get cryogenically frozen to preserve through unchangeability, its value as an icon like Walt Disney.

Seems like, as Tracy turns fifty-one, we’re less focused on ‘Who The Artist Is’ and more interested in an archive for ‘Who The Artist Was.’ Could be that this is the “Social Media Generation” trying to grapple with the 90s in it’s own language and seeing the past purely in terms of albums and timelines. We’re all more archival beasts than we’d care to admit these days and the Bed (always the art student’s workhorse) can perhaps find a new place in our future as a signifier of a past and place that’s steadily floating away from us down the river of history one day at a time.

In closing, I’d suggest investing in some really good Tupperware. Who knows when you might need a box of all the cigarettes you smoked in 2019.

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