Tracey Emin: My Bed and JMW Turner at Turner Contemporary

Tracey Emin with the My Bed installation in 2017

There are no vodka bottles, tiny blue knickers ‘like one of Turner’s clouds’ or contraceptive pills littering the floor around artist Tracey Emin’s bed these days but it is that installation, opening at Turner Contemporary tomorrow (October 13), that changed her life.

Speaking at the gallery today prior to the opening of the My Bed and JMW Turner exhibition, the 54-year-old artist revealed how creating the piece in 1998 saved her from the brink of desperation.

She said: “I got out of bed, looked at it and saw it in a white space, out of that environment. Subconsciously I saw myself out of that environment too, in a place that wasn’t failing, anorexic, alcoholic, unloved. I saw a future, it was like a magic carpet.

“It totally changed my life in lots of ways. It gave me a future, it gave me some money. From a desperate situation really amazing, fantastic things can happen.”

The bed, which is a snapshot of Emin’s life after a traumatic relationship breakdown, was bought by Chares Saatchi for a reported £150,000 in 2000. At auction in 2004 it went under the hammer for £2.2million.

It is now on display at Turner Contemporary alongside a collection of JMW Turner works loaned from Tate’s collection and chosen by the artist.

Ms Emin, who is due to move to Margate in July after buying a studio in the town, said the Bed changes each time she installs it at a new venue, and now feels  more of a reminder than a part of herself.

She said: “It gets older and I get older and all the objects of the Bed get further and further away from me and who I am now. I do not smoke, have sex, do not use contraceptives, have periods or wear small, blue knickers that look like one of Turner’s clouds. The Bed’s a reminder, it shows time and scale.

“It looks quite raunchy, maybe because it’s in Margate.

“It’s still seminal and it’s poetic as almost everyone has been there in a way so people can respond to it.”

The Bed is set against a white room with JMW Turner paintings of seascapes and stormy skies hung behind it.

The works were chosen by Ms Emin, who said: “I love the Turner’s behind it, it’s like I have made the Bed out of them, it’s uncanny how similar they are.

“The Bed is very vulnerable and open and so were Turner’s paintings.”

My Bed and  JMW Turner

The exhibition runs from October 13 to January 14 2018.

Admission to Turner Contemporary is free

Opening times:

Tuesday – Sunday and public holidays 10am – 5pm

Closed Mondays except public holidays