Tracey Emin’s piece “My Bed” features a pile of twisted and stained sheets surrounded by a halo of litter, including birth control packets, tissues, condoms, a half consumed bottle of vodka, among other items. This piece is the mourning scene of a terrible breakup Emin endured in her youth, and, as of earlier this April, the £2.54 million occupant of the Tate Britain.
Last year, “My Bed” was sold to Jay Jopling, who bought the piece on behalf of Count Christian Duerckheim, who has loaned the piece to the Tate for the next decade.
This isn’t the piece’s first stay at the Tate Britain, as it made its first debut in the space 15 years ago. In 1999, “My Bed” spurred Emin’s nomination for the Turner Prize despite mixed reactions. Critic Richard Cork commented in The Times that despite viewers initial repulsion at seeing “unwashed knickers” in a gallery space, the predominant reaction was that of respect for the artists “frankness about the calamity and mess of her life so far.” Emin claims that this scene was the result of four days in bed, two of which were spent unconscious.
The piece has been preserved impeccably since its original incarnation, as fragile artifacts such as cigarette butts have been contained in airtight plastic bags. Although the piece has remained empirically the same, its tone has transformed since it’s first exhibition, both for the viewer as well as for the artist herself.
Photos of Emin in the late 90’s, © Tracey Emin 2013. Extracted from Tracey Emin: My Photo Album
“I think now people see the bed as a very different thing…there are things on that bed that now have a place in history. Even forms of contraception, the fact that I don’t have periods anymore, the fact that the belt that went round my waist now only fits around my thigh,” Emin explained. Thus, this piece serves as an immediate and striking display of how depression can overtake and debilitate while simultaneously acting as a time capsule for heartache and crystallizing a moment long past.