Tracey Emin, 'My Bed'

Discover the story behind My Bed 1999 and why it was so controversial when it was first exhibited

Art is for feeling not for looking
Tracey Emin

Tracey Emin’s My Bed returned to Tate Britain fifteen years after the work saw her nominated for the Turner Prize. It was displayed alongside paintings by Francis Bacon and Emin’s more recent drawings, creating a more immersive environment in which to experience the piece up close.

In this interview, Tracey Emin talks about the dark emotional place the work emerged from and the media’s controversial reaction to the piece in 1999.


In 1998 I had a complete, absolute breakdown, and I spent four days in bed; I was asleep and semi-unconscious. When I eventually did get out of bed, I had some water, went back, looked at the bedroom and couldn’t believe what I could see; this absolute mess and decay of my life, and then I saw the bed out of that context of this tiny, tiny, bedroom, and I saw it in just like a big, white space. I realised that I had to move the bed and everything into the gallery space.

I was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1999 and in all honesty I never believed all the fuss and everything that would be caused about it; I had no idea. I think in the 1990s British art was making such a huge impression on people and all the tabloids were actually genuinely interested in it, regardless of how they set it up, and so that made the public interested in it, and I think the bed captured people’s imagination; it was a good thing for zeitgeist of the time.

For me it was important to bring it back to Tate Britain, but I’d like it to be shown in a different context at Tate Britain, so I wanted it to be shown historically. I chose Francis Bacon because his life was kind of pretty chaotic and he just did whatever he wanted to do, drank whatever he wanted to drink, slept with whoever he wanted to sleep with; he was a maverick within society.

The paintings that I’ve chosen like these big, undulating roles of flesh and these things turning and these folds and everything, and it’s much the same as the bed; the bed is folding, the bed is turning, the bed is moving. Francis Bacon’s paintings aren’t static, they’ve got total movement and so has the bed.

The reason why the drawings are here is because I wanted something which I’m making right now to accompany the bed, and the drawings are a donation to the Tate because I wanted people to be able to understand how the Tate still relates to what I’m doing now; there’s this chaos, there’s this body, there’s this movement. The person in those drawings could’ve just walked out of that bed and that also relates to Bacon as well.

When I’m installing the bed it’s kind of really sad and very depressing because I’m actually going into a time capsule of my past. All of the things that are round the bed no longer relate to my life at all, but I’ve got to say I’d be really stupid to be unhappy about this moment. Bringing it back to the Tate, Tate Britain, and showing it with paintings of my choice, I couldn’t be happier about that; it’s just brilliant.

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