My Bed is a work by the British artist Tracey Emin. First created in 1998, it was exhibited at the Tate Gallery in 1999 as one of the shortlisted works for the Turner Prize. It consisted of her bed with bedroom objects in an abject state, and gained much media attention. Although it did not win the prize, its notoriety has persisted.
The idea for The Bed was inspired by a depressive phase in the artist’s life when she had remained in bed for several days without eating or drinking anything but alcohol. When she looked at the vile, repulsive mess that had accumulated in her room, she suddenly realized what she had created. Emin had to ardently defend The Bed against critics who treated it as a farce and claimed anyone could exhibit an unmade bed. To these claims the artist justly retorted, “well they didn’t did they? no one had ever done that before”. The sensation of depression leading to disarray and detritus is not wholly unfamiliar to many people, and The Bed therefore enforces the communicative power that Tracey Emin seeks with her work.
The artwork generated considerable media furor, particularly over the fact that the bedsheets were stained with bodily secretions and the floor had items from the artist's room, such as condoms, underwear with menstrual blood stains, other detritus, and functional, everyday objects, including a pair of slippers. The bed was presented in the state that Emin claimed it had been after languishing in it for several days; at the time she was suffering suicidal depression brought on by relationship difficulties.
Two performance artists, Yuan Chai and Jian Jun Xi, jumped on the bed with bare torsos in order to improve the work, which they thought had not gone far enough. They called their performance Two Naked Men Jump into Tracey's Bed. The men also had a pillow fight on the bed for around fifteen minutes, to applause from the crowd, before being removed by security guards. The artists were detained but no further action was taken. Prior to its Tate Gallery showing, the work had appeared elsewhere, including Japan, where there were variant surroundings, including at one stage a hangman's noose hanging over the bed. This was not present when it was displayed at the Tate.
Craig Brown wrote a satirical piece about My Bed for Private Eye entitled My Turd. Emin's former boyfriend, former Stuckist artist Billy Childish, stated that he also had an old bed of hers in the shed which he would make available for £20,000.
Sale history and value
My Bed was bought by Charles Saatchi for £150,000 and displayed as part of the first exhibition when the Saatchi Gallery opened its new premises at County Hall, London (which it has now vacated). Saatchi also installed the bed in a dedicated room in his own home.
When it was announced, in May 2014, that the work was to be auctioned, David Maupin, Emin’s dealer in New York, described the £800,000 - £1.2 million estimate as too low. When auctioned by Christie's in July 2014, the piece was sold for a little over £2.5 million.
Notes and references
- Cherry, Deborah. "Tracey Emin's 'My Bed'". European Graduate School. Retrieved 25 January 2011.
- [Tracey Emin - The South Bank Show "https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxaoAy9oNtY"] Check
- "Tracey Emin - The South Bank Show".
- Kim Min Su and Stephen Mallinder (1 February 2010) Tracey Emin media coverage vs. Cabaret Voltaire’s Kino, Art Design Publicity. Retrieved 13 February 2010.
- Sooke, Alastair. "Tracey Emin – dirty sheets and all". The Daily Telegraph, 5 August 2008. Retrieved 31 July 2009.
- Tracey Emin's bed sells for over £2.5 million, Christie's, 1 July 2014.