Tracey Emin Sews Up Exhibitionism


Tracey Emin: charlatan or sage? The former YBA (wethinks that title can be safely retired) has made a career out of provocative images speaking to her simultaneous exhibitionist and self-loathing tendencies. She’s frank about her body and personal life, refusing to back off from the dark realities of sex, all of which makes for some pretty mouthy soundbites. After the jump, we’ve rounded up a few favorite Eminisms in honor of her fourth New York exhibition, currently on display at Lehmann Maupin.

The exhibition’s title, Only God Knows I am Good, references the David Bowie song from Space Oddity: “God knows I’m good, God knows I’m good, surely God will look the other way today.” Sound like a mantra for the modern age. 53 works are on display at Lehmann Maupin’s downtown location, including a large-scale film projection, never-before-seen neons and sculptures, and a collection of embroideries and monoprints. Though masturbatory drip drawings à la Egon Schiele or David Smith float throughout, it’s actually a much tamer showing than, say, “My Bed” (1998) or “C.V. Cunt Vernacular” (1997), or even “I’ve Got It All” (2000) a photograph in which her crotch is obscured only by piles of pound notes which she seems to be shoving into her vagina.

On her current show: “This show for me is about drawing, about the line. To quote Rudi Fuchs, esteemed Dutch art historian, my ‘salty line’. I’m on a constant search for clarity.”

On mellowing out: “I still get angry and come out spitting like a rottweiler. I get pissed too, but now I get my kicks from five glasses of wine, not by drinking a bottle of whisky, staying out all night and getting up the next day to fly to Japan or New York for a show. I’m not like that any more.”

On the fact that her handwriting is a commodity: “My ego is insane.”

On being 44: “I’m middle-aged, middle-weight, in the middle of my career. I’m middle-everything, really.”

On what kind of art she makes: “I come on the end of communicating an idea. I am never going to be the best visual artist in the world, it’s not my point.”

On not being recognized in New York: ““Damien [Hirst]’s not recognized like I am everywhere I go. In London I’m in the papers every time I blow my nose, essentially. I’ll be followed by paparazzi. I’m taught in the school curriculum in Britain.”

On haters: “If I believe they [my work] are art then they are art. I’m the artist, I decide the parameters.”

On what art she would like to possess: “If I could own a painting by Vermeer I would be very happy.”

On shock in art: “I shocked myself this week by doing a drawing of a very, very sweet and cute kitten.”

On the candid nature of her book Strangeland: “The problem is that I have no parameters so I give too much away. If I had somebody who loved me there would have been lots of stuff that wouldn’t have appeared in the book. I have no one to advise me on what to put in and what to leave out. That is why it’s so raw.”

On sleeping habits: I was with someone for six years and he said it was like sleeping next to the girl in The Exorcist, my face wobbling, me sitting bolt upright. I’m an insomniac as well, I take sleeping tablets.”

For further insight into the paradox of Emin, refer to a 2006 Observer article by psychologist Geoffrey Beattie, or the recent New York Times profile by Eric Konigsberg.

Tracey Emin / Only God Knows I’m Good November 5 – December 19, 2009 Lehmann Maupin downtown location at 201 Chrystie Street