Hayward Gallery

This major retrospective of one of the most celebrated contemporary artists and public figures features some of the most confrontational work coupled with intimate and thought-provoking art. The effect she makes clear with her work is how everything begins with her own experiences and later transcends to meet the familiarities of her audience, almost as if she were attempting to prove the level of her knowledge and association with topics such as feminism, life, death, family, and as hinted by this show, love.

Minus the famous work My Bed (1998) featured in the legendary Sensationalism exhibition from the Saatchi gallery, the Hayward promises and delivers an intimate speculation of an artist whose drawings, paintings, sculptures, films, neons and blankets suggest someone that would have committed suicide years ago had it not been for her emotional attachment to making art. There is almost nothing that Emin has not already told the public and audiences that bear witness to her life story as portrayed in her numerous works of different mediums.

She continues to present herself as a character that has had numerous appearances and cross-overs with other realities, not changing that much to her often smug, loving, needy and cruel persona. The drawings, paintings, letters and blankets seem to evermore suggest a ‘Frida Kahlo-like’ parody, producing numerous works that manipulate the definition of self-portrait and finding solace in confessing her sins, pleasures and woes to her audience like an orthodox Catholic to a priest.

The neon signs however, seem triumphant in advancing contemporary art as they make excellent influence of distinguishing Emin from Kahlo, as twenty-first century letter signatures that communicate her contemporary thoughts with a medium designed for audiences of the Age of Information. Indeed, Red Light Districts, shops, nightclubs are the best examples of connotations associated with the neons: rubbish, working-class, seediness, and filthy etc. but to Emin they are sexy when turned against men rather than women.

To re-approach her wounded psyche as that of Kahlo is a bit of an understatement, as she does not possess the same surreality, yet the video Love is a strange thing (2000) are symbols of Emin’s nationality and dependency of male dominance (which is close to zero now).

However, if it hasn’t already been said, then it might be worth analysing Emin’s work, namely her drawings and paintings, as the products of art therapy, tracing her thoughts and memories with anything at disposal – it almost makes you wish to see a wax crayon, child-like sketch of one such persistent image from her mind’s eye just to be able to see her vulnerable from another point of view: artistically. The work’s progress has felt increasingly violent towards her viewers since 2005 when she constructed groups of large sculptures such as Sleeping with you (2005) or Somewhere else (2011) which seem to transcend the obvious ego fulfilment associated with Emin and she instead incites heroes or previous childhood influences with detrimental effect to achieve a representation of her damaged life that relies little on dependency.

Unfortunately, some of the latest work, Baby Things (2008) lacks the proud, feminine masculinity that came best from earlier pieces such as the blankets, monographs or even sculptures that spawned from a ‘heavy childbirth’ with art and psychological interpretation. It might be due to the theme of infancy or the fact that the sculpture pieces from Baby Things are mere re-presentations of everyday, store bought toys and items that downplay Emin’s shield of protection against emotions.

Luckily, the entire retrospective achieves Emin’s goal of her artwork: love between the viewers and the artist.