Everybody who knows anything about conceptual art knows about Tracey Emin. Everyone who is familiar with Emin, must be acquainted with one of her most intriguing pieces named My Bed. The work is a 1998 production, transformed solely through the contemplative intervention of the artist when placed in an entirely different setting. My Bed is best described as an evolved ready-made, consisting of a real bed, rug underneath, all covered and surrounded by dirty sheets, pantyhose, empty vodka bottles, cigarette butts, used condoms and dirty underwear.
Glorified for its gruesome potency, the work was shortlisted for the 1999 Turner Prize and consequently bought by the famous millionaire and collector Charles Saatchi for about $255500 in 2000. The provocative piece stepped into the public eye once again, as it was being sold by Saatchi on auction at Christie’s London on July 1, expected to pull in between $1,362,400 and $2,043,600.
My Bed is studied and elaborately explained in many books on contemporary art. My Bed was sold for $4,351,969.
Put up for auction to support the work of the Saatchi Gallery Foundation, My Bed is considered one of the crucial pieces in the Young British Artist movement. Tracey Emin was in the room herself as the piece was being sold as a lot at the Post War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction.
Finally, it broke the record for Emin’s piece, selling at a much higher price than anticipated. It remains undisclosed who was the buyer and where the work will end up. Emin expressed hopes it would be bought by a benefactor and donated to a museum. The destiny of the piece remains to be seen.
My Bed was the result (it was not intentionally ‘made’ as a piece of art, it was 'named' one) of a relationship breakdown and the four days Tracey Emin spent in it, trying to get herself up again.
It is a self portrait created outside of all conventions. The media the artist employs was previously unexplored, as some ordinary elements from life become links between art and reality. Obviously, Emin continues Marcel Duchamp’s readymade concept, stretching it to the outer limits, as she makes a ‘setting’ out of the objects. There is a wooden bed, messy sheets, pillows, towels and stockings. All exudes life from within, emitting a kind of warmth of life, without having the typical memento mori effect. Clutter around the bed completes the scene, as the viewer can instantly envision the artist laying in this hot chaos for days, struggling with all of her vices and depression, only to survive. Excruciatingly personal and evocative, My Bed even holds a real self-portrait of the artist in one Polaroid placed on the night-table on the side, right next to the pack of used condoms and an overflowing ashtray. The piece is the confession of the innermost pains, deeply repressed secrets, on the same page as Emin’s earlier piece Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1965-1993, done in 1995.
My Bed is the self-portrait nobody really has the desire of seeing, but it is there, with all the dirt out, plain and honest, for everyone to deal.
Tracey Emin, who is 50 today, is an acclaimed artist, but towards the late 90s, she was a troubled artist. Acclaim came in the form of Turner Prize nomination and the exhibiting of My Bed at the Tate Gallery on this occasion. The reception of the piece was very strong, and it divided the critics, while making Emin the most famous living artist in the UK. The unmade bed installation really did “change people’s perceptions of art”, and it remains one of the most dramatic conceptual works of the decade.