The BRIT award statue has been designed and redesigned by artists since 2011. If anyone still watches the awards show itself is by the by, given that seeing who will do what to the statue of Britannia beforehand is probably more exciting than the celebration of mediocrity it’s used for. The statue has been redesigned by Vivienne Westwood, Sir Peter Blakely, Damien Hirst, and Philip Treacy. This year, Tracey Emin got to take a stab at it.
To say Emin has softened lately is putting it mildly. She’s like the Cath Kidston of the art world – entirely harmless. Her BRIT award design even strongly recalls Cath Kidston’s brand of middle class banality with its rosy pink hue, rosette, and completely banal words: ‘Congratulations on your talent on your life. On everything you give to others. Thank you.’ This is alongside recently designing the cover for the Band Aid 30 single, and accepting a CBE. Emin’s work has been stale for a while now, but her design of the statue has pretty much cut her off entirely from the cool young thing she used to be.
To see just how far away from her provocative roots she’s ran, let’s take a very brief look at how Emin began her artistic life, and her two most famous works. Emin began as the wildest child of the 90s Young British Artist group (or YBAs), who art collector/Nigella Lawson strangler Charles Saatchi helped become ridiculously wealthy and famous. Emin made herself infamous when she appeared wasted on a Channel 4 talk show and storming off. She followed this up with two pieces of brilliant, seminal art: Everyone I Have Every Slept With 1963-1995 and My Bed. They’re both icons of contemporary art – but is it art?! ‘How does a dirty bed get to be in a gallery, I’ve got one at home!’ That was essentially the question being asked about Tracey when she was at the height of her not inconsiderable powers.
Her art was incredibly personal and intimate in a minute, detailed way. Take Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995 for example. It was the tent you’re probably already aware of, but just in case you’ve been living under a rock, it’s essentially a tent with the names of everyone Emin has ever slept with – both sexually and literally – sewn to the inside. Alongside this, it has the beautiful phrase ‘With myself, always myself, never forgetting.’ It’s beautiful and personal and intimate to a degree you most likely won’t have shared with your closest friends, never mind everyone who came to see it. Anyway, Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995 burned down in a warehouse fire.
So to go from challenging the concept of what art even is to celebrating Prince William and Kate’s wedding with a drawing called The Kiss put on the front page of The Independent is rather a let-down. It very much seems the fire has gone out of Tracey Emin’s art. Her neon signs, always scrawled in her hand writing, used to read things like ‘Fuck off and die you slag.’ Now they hang in 10 Downing Street and say ‘More Passion.’ Let’s be clear – this particular sign hangs in a Conservative government which she voted for. That’s not the fire-breathing Tracey we all know and sometimes love.
It seems like Emin has nothing left to say. Being a celebrity is worth more to her than being an artist. Instead of revealing the personal things she was known for, she does what she can to help the establishment. In other words, she’s a celebrity now, and now that’s enough for her. She occasionally has to do something to remind us all why she’s a little bit famous in the first place. Her place in the art world was secured so long ago no one really knows why she’s there, just that she is. Like a lamp stuffed with an energy-saving lightbulb in the corner of a room – she’s barely perceptible anymore, just throwing out enough now and then to keep her trundling along nicely in her artist world. She doesn’t care anymore about producing great, challenging art. So why should we care about her?
Emin’s reputation as the enfant terrible of the art world was made so long ago no one can really remember why. Her work lately hasn’t even been an echo of what her past self accomplished. Tracey the celebrity is nothing next to Tracey the artist, it’s just a shame to waste the years of thought-provoking art in favour of maintaining a happy existence as a minor celebrity.
Of course we have to respect the fact that one of the greatest British artists of the 20th century was a working class woman, but Mad Tracey from Margate is no more. We’ve got to stop introducing her as ‘controversial artist Tracey Emin’ and make room for new artists who care more about their art then their celebrity.