women in the arts

No Oranges and Getting Up Again: The Security Guard who Hates Tracey Emin and the Case for Tracey Emin's Bed

I wanted to get an orange. That's how this all started. 

Starting on the 12th of April, Tate Britain will have an exhibition on -- Conceptual Art in Britain 1964-1970 -- and I am very excited about it (in particular, I'm pumped to snag one of Roelof Louw's oranges from his Pyramid of Oranges). So excited, in fact, that I thought it opened today.

Behold, my naivete, documented for the world to see:

Twitter continues to think that I live in America, hence the 6:07 timestamp/lie.

Twitter continues to think that I live in America, hence the 6:07 timestamp/lie.

Anyway, I arrived to discover my folly, but I'd already traveled the forty-minutes by tube to get there, so by GOD I was going to see some art, oranges be damned. I trundled around the museum, aimlessly sort of wandering from room to room, jotting down the names of artists I mean to look up later, but will likely forget (Ithell Colquhoun, Paule Vezelay, Gerald Brockhurst, and Lynn Chadwick among others) when I stumbled across Tracey Emin's 1998 Turner Prize-nominated work, My Bed in the contemporary wing. 

"Huh!" I said to myself. "I guess there it is."

I had known that they reinstalled the work about a year ago with two Francis Bacon paintings, and a few of Emin's own more recent works, but I suppose I was still surprised to see it there. I was surprised all around. I had never managed to see My Bed in person before. It's an incredibly divisive piece, and it always seems to creep up in conversations with people who are trying to get me to agree that contemporary art is, as my friend Caroline would say, "Kind of bullshit."

I circled the bed, noting especially the polaroid of Emin on her nightstand (sporting her trademark 'Fight me,' grimace), looked at the Bacon paintings, took the above panorama, and then the security guard sitting behind me chimed in.

"Are you taking a video?" He asked.

"Oh -- uh," I started. "No -- it's a panorama. Am I not supposed to take photos?"

"No, it's fine. I'm just curious. Are you an artist?"

"Art historian. Kind of," I shrugged.  

"I watched you. You looked at the wall, you looked at the paintings, you looked at everything. That's how I could tell that you were an artist."

"Oh. Do you watch a lot of people looking?" 

"Oh, yes."

Unless we are Sophie Calle, I think we forget sometimes that the security guards at museums are not only looking at art all day long, but they're also looking at people looking at art all day long.

I asked him how people normally react to seeing Emin's bed, to which he responded, "Oh, you know, some people come in and make fun of their girlfriends, they say, 'That's you!' and they laugh, some people come in and look and look and look -- like you."

"And what do you think of it?" I asked, and he grimaced, and then it was my turn to laugh. 

"I cannot stand it," he said. "I take pity on this woman. It's terrible that she would do this to herself over a boy, and put all of it in the museum. It's a horrible thing."

"I can get that."

It's true. I do get that. A lot of people (my friend Caroline and this security guard included) have problems with Emin's bed: it's gross, it seems lazy, it feels too personal, or there's no discernible technical artistic skill to compare one's own talents against. A classic victim of the, "I could do that," declaration and derision, My Bed goes beyond that -- this isn't a Cy Twombly or Agnes Martin piece where all a viewer might feel they lack is a paintbrush and a canvas. Just about everyone has a messy bed, and they're not selling for £2.5million. So what's the deal?

Well, here's the deal (and this is what I said to the security guard):

Sure, yes, Tracey Emin had a mental breakdown, maybe over a boy, whatever. She spent four days in bed, she was depressed, she thought she was going to die, and at first look, we might think that this is what Emin is trying to tell us -- that a psychotic break like that is horrible. But I don't think the whys and hows of her depressive episode are important at all, because that's not what it's about. When speaking of the work, Emin says that it was when she finally, after four days of sleeping and drinking and feeling sorry for herself, she crawled her way to her bathroom and got herself a glass of water and turned to look at her bed, she had a moment of clarity. She realised that she could get up and move on and leave these feelings behind her, and this bed in its state as we see it today is the past she left behind.

This bed had carried her. It hadn't judged her, and it hadn't hurt her. It had kept her off the floor until she could get up herself, and putting it in the gallery space allowed her to honor it and to remember that moment of clarity and the choice she made to get out of bed. It's a snapshot of her recognising her own self-efficacy.  

Tracey Emin's bed isn't about the lying down -- it's about the getting up again. 

Women in the Arts #6

The following blog post is the last in a series of Facebook posts I wrote for Women's History Month, and to follow along with the hashtag #5WomenArtists, started by the National Museum of Women in the Arts. These posts were written to be an accessible, informative, and humorous way to encourage friends of mine to engage with art history and feminism. 

WELL EVERYONE WE ARE HERE. We did it. We arrived to International Women's Day!!! We've spent the past five days chatting about ‪#‎FiveWomenArtists‬, and I am so proud of us. I hope you consider yourself more knowledgeable, more in the know, more likely to say, "Oh hey, I can name at LEAST five artists who are women, IF NOT MORE." You are welcome for that line, which you may now put into your conversational toolkit.

To recap, you now know about Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Zubeida Agha, Yayoi Kusama, Adrian Piper, and Sophie Calle. But you GUYS, here is the kicker: There are more artists out there who are women! I know!!! I had SUCH a difficult time narrowing down this list to just these five extraordinary ladies, and I encourage you to go off and educate yourself about all the groundbreaking badass women in art history who have had to work as hard (if not way harder) than their male counterparts to be seen, sold, and exhibited. The next time you are at a museum, take a minute and take stock -- is the piece you're looking at by a woman? What about the piece next to it? And the one after that?

As activist/artist/anonymous collective the Guerrilla Girls so succinctly put it: "You're seeing less than half the picture without the vision of women artists and artists of colour." Without the voices of marginalised groups within the canon of art history, we're only seeing the world and its history through one lens -- and that lens is white and male.

"I don't want that! What ELSE could I do?" I hear the strawmen ask!

Wellll, you could follow the hashtag #FiveWomenArtists to see the amazing trend the National Museum of Women in the Arts started to learn more about the women who have contributed to the world of art over the years, and expand your vocabulary. If you're more of a self-motivated Wikipedia-hounding Googler like myself, maybe check out some of the fave ladies on my list I didn't get to include this week, like Kara Walker, Tracey Emin, Janine Antoni, Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kreuger, Cindy Sherman, Carolee Schneemann, Berthe Morisot, Laura Knight, Judy Chicago, Francesca Woodman, Marina Abramović, and SO MANY MORE.

Maybe check this awesome list Huffington Post put together:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/…/artists-you-should-remember…

Or THIS list of *UPCOMING* solo shows for women across the world:https://news.artnet.com/…/10-groundbreaking-female-artists-…

IN CONCLUSION, MY PALS: It has been a rollercoaster week for all of us, I'm sure. But I have had such fun putting together these posts for you, and a part of me is sorry to have to let you go! More than that, however, I'm glad and so thankful that you've taken the time out of your day to give them a read and learn more. Each 'like' to let me know you've read has meant an embarrassing amount to me, and I hope you've enjoyed it as much as I have!

Go forth and spread the good word of ladies making art.




Women in the Arts #5

The following blog post is the fifth in a series of Facebook posts I wrote for Women's History Month, and to follow along with the hashtag #5WomenArtists, started by the National Museum of Women in the Arts. These posts were written to be an accessible, informative, and humorous way to encourage friends of mine to engage with art history and feminism.

ALRIGHT FAM LISTEN UP. We're talking about ‪#‎FiveWomenArtists‬ in celebration of Women's History Month leading up to International Women's Day TOMORROW. This is our FIFTH artist in our series (you'll get a bonus post tomorrow shh), and she's my FAVE.


It is 1979 and we are in Venice, following a man we'll only refer to as Henri B., whom we met at a party in Paris just a few days prior. Our pal Sophie Calle has shrugged on a trench coat, donned a blond wig and armed herself with a 35mm camera for the task, and she is basically quietly stalking this man all across Venice to see just how far she can take it -- but in a nice way? "I was just trying to play," she later said of the work, "Suite Venitienne."

Our second artist named Sophie in this series, Calle is a French-born performance artist and she is so rad. Her work is conceptual in theme and execution, exploring ideas like intimacy, sexuality, and the private/public space through avenues which might be considered nontraditional (no paintings, prints, or sculptures in sight). Example -- after her own foray into the Private Eye biz (see above), Calle hired her own private investigator (under a pseudonym) to investigate... herself??? This work, "The Shadow," (1981), was Calle's attempt to get "photographic evidence of [her] own existence." Nice. Or in "L'Hotel," (1981) when Calle worked a three-month stint as a maid at a Big Hotel in Paris. She would open up the luggage in the rooms she was sent to clean, photograph their contents, and then try to piece together biographies for the individuals to whom they belonged (see an extract from this series attached). What the heck! Travel safe, folks.

Sophie "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" Calle carries this particular brand of playful voyeurism throughout her body of work, whether she is getting strangers to tell her the worst breakup story they have to help ease the pain of her own painful breakup ("Douleur Exquise," 2003), or replacing paintings in MoMA with descriptions of the paintings, as written by the guards assigned to their rooms ("Ghosts," 1991). Her work is cleverly thought out, and meticulously put together. Sophie Calle is a woman after my own heart. She still practices today, and is the only artist I can think of whose work simultaneously moves me to tears AND makes me go, "What the HECK, Sophie." If you check out no other artist on my list, make it this one.

Check out these posts from the beginning, with a rundown on gender inequality in the arts and our first Sophie on my profile.

Tune in tomorrow for a big old blowout of a recap, celebration, and meditation on badass ladies in art! Happy Women's History Month!