It’s not called White Cube for nothing. I walked into the large, wide space knowing little more than it was a Tracey Emin’s exhibition of new works. I have liked Tracey Emin since the unmade bed provocation at the Turner Contemporary in London in 1999: an unmade bed of stained bed sheets, cigarette butts and used condoms that represented a period of depression after a difficult breakup.
Mostly, I have appreciated Tracey Emin because I found her art always relatable on some level, baring all for everyone to see – it is not that I found my experience in her art necessarily, but I could see clearly who she was and understood it. Yet, I was not quite prepared for “The Last Great Adventure is You”, a large collection of bronze sculptures, gouaches, paintings, large-scale embroideries and neon works, that was on view until a few days ago at London’s White Cube.
First of all, this woman can draw. Beautifully. In the words of Jonathan Jones, The Guardian’s art critic: “Her new exhibition at White Cube in Bermondsey is a masterclass in how to use traditional artistic skills in the 21st century. Where other artists of her generation look stupid when they take up charcoals or brushes, and undermine the myth of talent their readymades may have created – I shudder at the memory of Damien Hirst’s last painting show – it turns out Emin was sitting on a suitcase of spare ability all along.”
What I was not prepared for was to recognize myself all along those walls, canvases large and small and tiny, embroidered or sketched. The sizable collection was created over a number of years and, if it started as a conversation with and for the “You” in the title, a second person, a lover maybe, at the end of the process, the artist was confronted with just herself. And aren’t we all?
Ms. Emin describes the work as being “about rites of passage, of time and age, and the simple realisation that we are always alone.”
Drawing after nude drawing, of herself reading, resting, sleeping, having sex, feeling sad or content, the viewer is confronted with a woman who has put herself under deep scrutiny, whether her unflinching gaze is directed at her changing body, the loss of youth, the loss of a lover and the discovery of who she has become.
I would like to believe, and that is what I chose to see in the sketches and the sculptures, that what she has become, despite the shedding of freshness, is a more balanced sense of self. What I was not prepared for was to see the long process of self-discovery, of self-criticism and finally acceptance every woman our age goes through, so movingly and precisely visually documented.
While this particular exhibition just closed, some of the sketches will be featured at un upcoming self-portrait exhibition at the Turner Contemporary (opening on Jan 24) and at the Leopold Museum in Vienna, as part of an Egon Schiele exhibition (opening on April 24).