With Thames & Hudson’s “World of art” series having just published a volume on her life and work, Tracey Emin’s international stock would seem to be on the rise, and this retrospective at Sydney’s premier gallery (1 February-23 March) only confirms it (right, Emin’s “Mad Tracey from Margate, everyone’s been there”, 1997). The art of Tracey Emin contains 10 essays by prominent contemporary writers and curators, who invoke everyone from Egon Schiele and Edvard Munch to Bruce Naumann and Andy Warhol in their appraisal of the artist. In terms of public persona (and Emin is an artist whose work is impossible to separate from her celebrity) she is perhaps most interestingly contrasted with Gilbert and George: where that duo are famously buttoned-up and bitterly ironic, Emin is flatulently expressionistic. Will it all mean anything to Australian audiences? Or will the missing social context prove fatal? Many Australians have, of course, heard of Tracey Emin, but they would probably prefer a visit from certain of her friends (Kate Moss, for starters). Attention will no doubt focus on Emin’s drawings, which are rather compelling in their combination of medium (weathered, fragile-looking monoprint), anguished writing and erotic immediacy. And why not? But then, Australia has its own Tracey Emin, a young artist called Adam Cullen, whose paintings are less clichéd, more confrontational and more intelligent, and who is less pathetically craven and cynical in his manipulation of the media. It is strange indeed for a prestigious museum to be importing retrospectives of provincial artists like Emin, unless one sees it as a symptom of the same lust for publicity and controversy that has made her such a qualified success.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Tracey Emin'