Putting Tracey To Bed. (Part 2.)


Tracey Emin My Bed.1999

My Bed is a piece of conceptual art, which means that the idea is the most important thing about it. It belongs in the category of Abject art that explores culturally hidden areas such as; filth, bodily waste, corpses etc. An unmade bed, even a regular one without, all the graphic detritus associated with this particular bed still has the power to disturb and for women particularly, often carries an emotional resonance.

“Tell the bed not to lay                                                                                           Like the open mouth of a grave.                                                                                                                                Song lyrics, Don’t Tell Me, Madonna


While at university, in discussion about this work, Jim Lockey, a fellow student pointed out the link between My Bed and Fountain by Duchamp 1917, a porcelain urinal that caused a moral panic at the time. Below is an extract from a defence of the piece, thought to be written by Duchamp.

‘Whether Mr Mutt with his own hands made the fountain has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view – created a new thought for that object.’ (‘The Richard Mutt Case’, The Blind Man, New York, no.2, May 1917, p.5.)

Emin’s bed, takes a domestic object and presents it in an art context, thereby changing the way we view it. The work echoes Fountain but takes it further in that the bed is evidence of a tranche of lived life, and embodies the passing of time spent in limbo and in that way says legitimately that her life is her art. Although there is a seemingly haphazard, almost accidental quality in the life of this work and of its artist, there is no doubt about its unsettling power and nagging reference to a dissolutely, feminine state. It still provokes.



There is an exciting codicil to all this. It has been alleged in another article that Duchamp was  in fact not the artist of the work Fountain and that it was most likely produced by his friend and fellow artist Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Lorringhoven, a woman.

“Scholars have long since proved that Duchamp could not have bought the urinal from the J. L. Mott Iron Works because Mott didn’t sell that particular model. Most tellingly, on 11 April 1917, just two days after the board had rejected it, Duchamp wrote to his sister, a nurse in war-torn Paris, telling her that “one of my female friends under a masculine pseudonym, Richard Mutt, sent in a porcelain urinal as a sculpture”. The explosive contents of this letter did not enter the public domain until 1983 when the missive was published in the Archives of American Art Journal.”

By Julian Spalding and Glyn Thompson. Comment, Issue 262, November 2014
The Art Newspaper online journal

The article asserts that although there is compelling evidence in the form of a letter written by Duchamp which has long been in the public domain, if it were accepted, the whole cannon of conceptual art would have to be reappraised. Imagine that.

“Let us not look back in anger nor forward in fear, but around in awareness.”                                                                                                                 James Thurber.