There are some artists we know almost nothing about, not even their real names. They keep to themselves and don’t even let their artworks speak about their lives. Tracey Emin could be described as the exact opposite of that. In fact, her life did become her art on several occasions, as this extraordinary character surely isn’t afraid to put her emotions out there for the world to see. Whether it’s about troubled childhood, sensitive teenage years or the complicated adult relationships, Tracey Emin art is bold, surprisingly honest and, as such, apparently provocative, as it often happens. Like chapters of her diary turned into three-dimensional artistic forms in space, her artworks represent metaphors of life that we can all relate to, but never thought we’d see exposed so bravely.
Around for well over two decades now, Tracey Emin has got herself quite a few esteemed titles as well - CBE (Most excellent order of the British Empire), RA (member of the Royal Academy) and YBA (Young British Artist). Her artworks are among the most significant in British art history, alongside those of Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas and Rachel Whiteread. The intriguing works of the English artist have also been ever-present in the world's marketplace and at art auctions, while the number of her sold artworks exponentially growing over the years. In this article, we will review Tracey Emin’s most famous artworks at auctions, including her best-known pieces such as… oh, you’ll just have to find out!
Someone once said that death is only a part of life, and Tracey Emin seems to have taken note of that. In 1997, she created her last resting place in form of an actual coffin, consisting of a casket, appliquéd mattress and ink on paper works. It served to accommodate the readers of another Tracey Emin art piece, Always Glad To See You from 1996 - a smaller written work which describes her infamous dehydration from alcohol (an entire bottle of Orangina, to be precise). It is safe to say that Tracey Emin is a particularly interesting storyteller, and for her, the best stories are the ones she lived through herself.
In 2004, My Coffin went over its high estimate and sold for $130,000 at Sotheby’s London.
In the late 1980s, Tracey Emin obtained her MA in painting at the Royal College of Art in London. Only, she described this experience as a very negative one, so in 1996, she tried to reconcile with the medium. For fourteen days, she had been locked in a gallery with nothing but a lot of art materials and empty canvases. Furthermore, she could be observed while making this artwork, usually naked, through a series of wide-angle lenses embedded in the walls. The result? An installation featuring autobiographical images, 14 paintings, 78 drawings, five body prints, a variety of personal items, newspapers, even pieces of furniture, and much more. Many individual pieces of this installations found their ways to the auctions separately.
In February 2015, Exorcism of the Last Painting I Ever Made was sold for £722,500 at Christie’s London.
The thing is, Tracey Emin simply prefers getting involved in art in a way much different than painting. She likes to sew stuff onto other stuff, to create installations that speak through words and images, and which occupy spaces. This piece, for example, is an appliqué blanket, onto which we can see a writing that says “dirty girl” and a drawing of the Eiffel Tower, and perhaps an image of the Earth surrounded by another writing, saying “YOU SUCK I TOLD YOU STAY AWAY FROM MY CHILDREN”. The blanket obviously became the spot where Tracey Emin’s most random thoughts convey to make an artwork. Or perhaps they’re not so random after all.
It’s The Way We Think achieved the price of $200,000 at Christie’s London in 2010.
And not only - Tracey Emin also does neon artworks. Is she cool or what?! This particular piece, for instance, had an awesome debut in New York’s Times Square, for the occasion of the 2014 Valentine’s Day. Her other neon works also saw the light of night throughout the whole month of February, with each of them having five minutes of fame every night at 11:57PM. On more than 40 screens large and small, for a span of three minutes, Tracey Emin’s six messages of love spelled themselves out, digitally animated to appear as if being written by a giant unseen hand. Known to have a particular relationship with love, the artist surely had a lot of inspiration for this one.
I Promise To Love You last sold at $121,430 at Phillips London in October 2015.
Another blanket bears testimony to Tracey Emin’s past fears, anxiety over the future and present preoccupations. “HOW COULD I EVER LEAVE YOU”, “I LOVE YOU”, “I AM WET WITH FEAR”, “I AM INTERNATIONAL WOMAN”, “I SEARCH THE WORLD I KISS YOU” are the curious writings on this textile white landscape, which the artist threats like a canvas. The sewing works are her most demanding ones, as they require lengthy creation process and a careful choice of materials. They bind this feminine craft with the one of collage, for a unity of laters and texture in a highly expressive manner.
Terminal One reached $260,000 at Christie’s London in 2014.
Passing from bold and bright color palette to something more delicate, like the pale shades and hues of white and pink, Tracey Emin created It Always Hurts, yet another example of the artist’s intimate confessions which have found home in form of a blanket. In a single environment, she is angry and sensual, emancipated and bitter, hopeful and hopeless, as shown in messages like “Be with whoever” and “You stop me from feeling anything but myself”. At the top of the piece lies a naked female figure, bending over to add yet another ambiguous message to these writings; and next to it, am embroidered circle of sperm.
Christie’s London sold It Always Hurts in 2015 for the low estimate of $315,000.
Tracey Emin was, at one point, so interested in handmade work that she even had her own shop, which she opened together with fellow artist Sarah Lucas in the early 1990s. It seems that the love for the craft went nowhere over the years - rather, it only emphasised the state of her emotions even further. In this blanket, angrier than usual, we see Tracey Emin scolding herself, through a series of accusations and even name-callings: “you ruined everything”, says one writing, “is that why you have no friends” says another. Like a sum-up of drunken text messages, this piece represents the visualisation of a particular low point in a woman’s life.
In 2014, Super Drunk Bitch went for its high estimate, $500,000, at Christie’s London.
With To Meet My Past, Tracey Emin continued the legacy of her “bed-related” topics, following the great success of Everyone I Ever Slept With 1963 - 1995 from 1995 and, of course, My Bed from 1998. Like a shrine, this piece is an actual bed, with sheets, quilts and upholstery covered with her embroidered anecdotes and phrases in her distinctive handwriting. These statements are, as one would expect, deeply personal, provocative and sexualized to the point where you can’t ignore them in any way. With such a work in front you of you, you also can’t help but explore yourself too, ask questions that perhaps you never dared to before.
To Meet My Past went for $640,000 at Christie’s London in 2013.
The year 1997 was pivotal for Tracey Emin and her art, and it was also the time she referred to herself as “Mad Tracey from Margate”. She was her artistic persona, and she borrowed her name to the title of the 1999 documentary, which presented the artist to the world. It took her six months to put it all together, and since its creation, it’s been featured in her biggest solo and group exhibitions. The work is a tribute to her history and hometown of Margate which includes childhood memories, ancient diary entries and love letters, conversations she’s never forgotten. It is a piece of folk art and visual poetry, executed in a highly personal and contemporary manner.
Mad Tracey from Margate. Everyone's Been There achieved $960,000 at Christie’s London in 2014.
Here it is, the artwork which gave the art world a good shake and that had catapulted Tracey Emin among the stars of the British scene - and not only. It stands as a sort of a monument of the artist’s several days of drinking in her bed, caused by severe depression over failed relationship. Stained sheets, condoms, underwear, menstrual blood stains and cigarette figs are only some of the things we can see in the installation everyone claimed could be theirs - to which Tracey Emin responded “well they didn’t [exhibit their unmade bed], did they? No one had ever done that before.” The work was nominated for the esteemed Turner prize, and although it hadn’t won, it remained one of the most notorious artworks in history of the award.
As Tracey Emin’s highest selling and most popular art piece, My Bed sold for $3.8 million at Christie’s London in 2014.
All images used for illustrative purposes only.