“Books have their fate.” So wrote British art critic Robert Hughes’ in his 1983 book about the development of modern art “The Shock of the New.”
He was right, of course. His take on the hottest and baddest art back then has little relevance to the contemporary confessional art of Tracy Emin.
“My Bed” – Emin’s actual bed strewn with empty booze bottles, cigarette butts and semen-stained sheets after a failed love affair in 1998 that she says “still has that same smell that it had 16 years ago.”
But neither the stains nor smells kept buyers away at last week’s auction sale of “My Bed” at Christie’s London, which sold to an anonymous bidder for a record-breaking $4.4 million.
The Brits really like this thing. In 1999, it was shortlisted for England’s covered Turner Prize. Tania Buckrell Pos, head of Arts and Management International, thinks so much of it, after the auction, she told the press, “It belongs in a museum, hopefully whoever he bought it for will pass it to an institution.”
Clearly, she wants everyone to see this thing.
Naturally, Emin likes “My Bed” most of all. Following the historic sale, she told the BBC:
“I really care about the bed, and I really love it. I didn't realize how passionate I was about it.” She also said, “If I never do anything else great and seminal again, like the bed, I've done it. And that makes me happy.”
Sorry I can’t share the joy, Tracy Emin. In 1999, another of your works on view at the Brooklyn Museum - a pink neon sculpture called "Very Happy Girl" that described the size of your boyfriend's penis - had me pining for one of Edward Hopper's unoccupied sidewalks, vacant brownstones and tenantless windows. That goes double for "My Bed."
It isn't your style that bothers me about your artmaking. Something Hopper talked about makes my point. He cited 17th century playwright Moliere, who railed against excesses. Case in pointlessness - excesses like your showing the size of someone’s sex organ or the detritus of your coupling/uncoupling?
Hopper practiced what he preached. When he first painted his people-less scene of storefronts called "Early Sunday Morning," he included figures in one of the storefront windows, but he changed his mind. "The picture will not tell any obvious anecdote," he said.
That's the objectionable part of Emin’s "art". It's all so damn obvious.