Love Is What You Want

Tracey Emins major retrospective ‘Love is What you Want’ has just opened at the Hayward Gallery as part of the Southbank Centre’s Festival of Britain celebrations.

‘Running Naked’ 2000/2011

At first glance the exhibition is pretty much what you’d expect of an Emin retrospective – the familiar embroidered blankets and buzzing neons adorn the walls, hung along side series of smudged autobiographical drawings and misspelt writings. However, the glaring omission of Emin’s most famous/notorious works ‘My Bed’ and ‘Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995’ or ‘My Tent’ (the latter of which was destroyed in a warehouse fire of Charles Saatchi’s work in 2004) allows the viewer to see past the Daily Mail perpetuated anti-Emin agenda that has proved a dark cloud over the public perception of her work throughout her career.

Image courtesy of File Magazine

Initially, I was sceptical about visiting the exhibition – a lot of tabloid attention doesn’t do much for an artists credibility – and Emin along with other YBA’s has been in and out of favour with the art world for many years. However, as I walked around the exhibition I was reminded of how much I actually like Emin’s work. She might be crass, and loud and talk about things that we’re not supposed to talk about – but that’s why her work is good, how many other artists are talking about love, sex, pregnancy and abortion without romantic rose tinted glasses? And she talks about all of these things with an underlying tone of humour, she get’s the tragic joke. My favorite Emin work that really epitomises all of this is an early video work ‘Why I Never Became a Dancer’, in which she reminisces about her teenage attitude to men and sex, and she recalls a particularly tragic incident culminating in her departure from Margate, but the short video ends in a high panning over Emin dancing ecstatically around a large London studio.

Video Still from ‘Why I Never Became a Dancer’

Another evokative video work ‘How it Feels’ 1996 sees Emin recount intimate details of her abortion, a theme she often returns to in her work. The rambling details are played out again, and again throughout the exhibition in series of writings, etchings and memorabilia but the raw emotions of her life are literally highlighted in her neon works which fill a long dark and claustrophobic corridor.

Image courtesy of File Magazine

Her most recent, and somewhat more mature works, sit at the end of the exhibition – subtle in colour and traditional in form, the small sculptures sit atop wooden plinths both inside and outside the exhibition.

Images courtesy of File Magazine

If you’re in London ‘Love is What You Want’ is well worth a visit, if nothing else it might challenge the skepticism that many undoubtedly associate with Emin.