Over at Roslyn Oxley Gallery we went to see the Tracey Emin show and we were curious, especially after all the nasty things we said about her. We had never actually seen anything by her in the flesh (so to speak) and were intrigued to see what it was like in RL.
Let’s also state up front that we are disposed to like Emin’s work. We actually find her drunken, sluttish behaviour aappealing and when we sit back and remember ourselves at our worst, most hyper-emotional state, we feel nothing but sympathy for her. It could be us falling over and making a spectacle of ourselves in public. It could be us signing beer coasters in pubs, it could be us with a cast on our wrists and a broken finger, drunk on British TV, slobbering on about wanting to be with our friends. Besides, it’s not every day you can go to a Sydney gallery and see a serious show by a big name international artist.
Only that wasn’t quite what we got. The Emin show is a rag tag bunch of prints, framed Polaroids and stuff she threw together for Oxley dating back to 1997. It’s not a cohesive show in any way, but there are things in there that are brilliant and things that are incredibly shit.
On the plus side are the drawings and the watercolours. Yes. Very nice. The appliqués are kind of funny and we really, really like all the bad language and shouty stuff in the text.
“DON’T LOOK FOR REVENGE, it just happens, if you don’t like it then go an fuck your self don’t take it out on me.”
“Is Anal Sex leagal”
There’s a fluidity and honesty to Emin’s work that makes you blush. She really means it and we have to respect that level of hysterical exhibitionism. On the down side is her adoption of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. This is clearly a mistake. Munch, for all his ahead-of-his-time qualities, has been consigned to the same embarrassing teenage bedroom wall of history as Claude Monet’s Water Lilies and that photo of the tennis player woman scratching her naked arse. Emin’s attempt to draw some kind of parallel between her crazy, fucked up life and her abortions with Munch’s painting is just embarrassing (see her video installation of a work called Homage To Edvard Munch and All My Dead Children, the walls of the second exhibition space at Oxley painted blood red!). In another work, the paucity of Emin’s aesthetic sense comes into full view; badly done painting; Munch’s The Screamfrom a calendar pinned next to it; in front, a school chair and a gas mask; on the wall, a lithograph and a Polaroid. Holy cow!
The curious thing about Emin’s work is how much it fits in with Australian art of the last decade or so. Jenny Watson’s Ballroom Series came to mind, and a couple of Emin’s works on canvas have a passing resemblance to the text pieces of Adam Cullen (circa 1997). But the interesting thing to note is that Australian Grunge proves itself to have been (and continues to be in the work of Cullen and Hany Armanious) a highly aesthetisized approach to art making. Emin, on the other hand, is just really, really bad at making objects.
We are not against the idea that art could be purely the product of an idea. Visual aesthetics don’t have to enter into it. But they inevitably do because, aside from some curator deciding that a particular work of art is important and buying it for a museum, the career of an artist is largely driven by someone liking their aesthetic vision, ie, buying it. It’s the only way you can live with art. It has to continue to seduce and surprise you.
At this point we belched and realised we had been suffering from indigestion and gas. It was time to leave.