Tracey Emin’s ‘My Bed’ Not Quite Her Own

Tracey Emin’s 1998 piece My Bed is not only one of the British artist’s best known works, but also one of the most powerful ones. The installation shows the condition of the artist’s bed which she basically didn’t leave for four days after a breakup. The bed has dirty sheets and is surrounded by used condoms, vodka bottles, and cigarette butts, among other remnants of grief.

Anyone who has ever suffered from any sort of heartbreak can relate to this piece, which is why it’s so powerful and so controversial. However, Martin Kempt, an art historian at Oxford University has come out with an analysis that questions the authenticity of the piece. Kempt told the Sunday Times, “Look at the various incarnations of My Bed and it’s clear that the detritus of Emin’s legendary four days in bed has been reconfigured a good deal […] It’s not just some things not arranged scrupulously, which is fine. They’re actually different items.”

This is fair, but we think Kempt needs to remember that this is after all a piece which has travelled for years and years – and just like any other artwork, needs modifications after a certain period of time. Emin suggests the same, telling the newspaper, “The bed has gone through many transformations. In a way it’s a self-portrait. Every time I reinstall the bed it will always be different. [After my death], the people … will install it differently because of the nature of how I haunt the room. The bed is the physical ghost of my own existence.”

The true sentiment of this piece is the exposure of human emotions so who cares if the sheets have rumpled more or less? Emin laid in bed and then she made it, and that’s that.

Photography via Christie’s

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