A British expert claims that Tracey Emin’s most famous artwork, My Bed (1998), was never actually slept in by the artist. Consisting of Emin’s bed, dirty underwear, cigarette butts, vodka bottles, and boxes of contraceptive pills, the artwork was created by the artist after she spent four days in it recovering from a breakup.
According to Martin Kemp, who spoke to the Sunday Times about his multiple viewings of the work, the manner in which the bed’s sheets have been arranged do not correspond to the creases that would be formed by a person laying down and sleeping in it. Similarly, he suggests that the pillows are not dented the way they would be if someone’s head had rested on them.
The work was sold to German Count Christian Duerckheim for £2.5 million ($4.3 million) at Christie’s London this past July (see “Christie’s Rides Tracey Emin’s Bed to £99 Million Night”). The collector subsequently placed the work on loan to Tate for a minimum of 10 years.
Kemp is an expert on Leonardo da Vinci and a professor emeritus of art history at Oxford University, a background that has clearly shaded his view of the work. Speaking to the Times, he explained: “Look at the various incarnations of My Bed and it’s clear that the detritus of Emin’s legendary four days in bed has been reconfigured a good deal […] It’s not just some things not arranged scrupulously, which is fine. They’re actually different items.”
Emin did not dispute Kemp’s claims, telling the paper that the bed itself was from her apartment. She suggested that the exact arrangement of the piece and items presented were intended to evoke the idea of her four days in bed rather than recreating the experience in exacting detail.