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Why we need Tracey Emin’s Bed


I recently went to see Tracey Emin’s ‘My Bed’ (1998) at the Tate Gallery in Liverpool. I had seen it before many years ago but the shock upon seeing it is as ripe this year as it was nineteen years ago.

Wandering into the gallery where it stands, I saw the dirty sheets sprawled over the unkempt mattress, laced with vodka bottles, condoms and dirty tights, and found it a little on the repulsive side. Age has not made the installation more beautiful; it now has a layer of dust ground into the already grubby and torn pillows, the cigarette butts are almost turned to dust and there is definitely a faint mustiness in the air. We, the viewers, stood and stared at the bed, at the suitcases with chains the juxtaposition of this most confrontational of artist with the works of the revered, almost deified William Blake designed to provoke and challenge and all around the gallery the arguments raged, from ‘had it been carved out of marble you’d think it was art’ to ‘my kid’s room looks like that’. Blake is almost ignored. He becomes the afterthought. His art, once considered so controversial and challenging is easy to understand compared with The Bed.

The idea that art can be a moment caught in time, as compared to an item that took a strenuous amount of effort and skill with paint or marble, is a concept that divides the viewers. Everyone has an opinion, for or against; there is no shrug of shoulders to denote any kind of middle ground. Emin’s Bed is the Marmite of art.


Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian


Consider this. ‘My Bed’ is a moment caught in time, a 3D photograph: it has been described as a confession, a critique of the messiness of an individual life. The bed represents not only her flaws, but also the frameworks of sexual politics, hopelessness and displacement. When it was first displayed, the bed sent out convulsions of shock to the public. After its first appearance at the Tate, it became an overnight sensation as it was realized that as seemingly simplistic and taunting it is as art, it had never been done before and, because she has done this, it can never be done again. Tracey Emin caught the imagination of a nation and thus described their mood and their times, becoming a modern art sensation, begging the question as to what is conceptual art? Her tormented past and her status as a controversial artist is often argued to produce such pieces. It is important to know that the bed was not composed upon a whim, but was the product of months of meticulous planning and painstaking work. She took a low point in her life, when she suffered and could not get out of bed. Had she painted it, photographed it, carved it in marble it would not have the same impact, it would be static and always and enduringly the same. Her bed is a moveable feast each time it is delivered to a new gallery, Emin herself comes to organize the carefully packed cigarette butts, the hardening condoms, the dirty glasses and the full ashtrays. She arranges the worn rug and the rumpled sheets, patting down the blanket with its stains and tears, plumping carefully the now almost too threadbare pillows. It is a sad piece now. Almost twenty years ago it was young and vibrant, stroppy and rebellious, sullen in its outlook and its anger was almost palpable. Emin and her ilk became rich on challenging the establishment, stamping their little feet and screaming look at me!

But despite all this effort, despite the anger mellowing and the establishment paying millions for the outrageous, My Bed is now all grown up and the worse for wear.

Emin’s work is not going to last forever; unlike a painting or sculpture it is already dying. The cotton is becoming worn, the feathers flat and grey, the mattress rotting, the colours fading over time until eventually it won’t be able to be moved, it will need a climate controlled room to maintain its existence and yet still the argument will rage as to whether or not it is art.

In a time when fundamental change continues to push the boundaries of modern art as we know it, we continue to struggle to define it and question its validity. Whether you love or hate modern art, it is important to recognise its complexity. Art is not simply art because the nicely composed still life has taken a long time and the ‘detail is pretty,’ but art is what the viewer makes of it and the feelings it inspires.

Art demands a response, an opinion, a discussion. Emin’s bed certainly does that.

Tracey Emin’s ‘My Bed” is at the Tate Gallery in Liverpool until 3rd September 2017.

Fiona Helleur
Director Sayle Gallery
Head of Youth Arts Centre.

April 2017

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Roger Dean Paintings Acquired by Isle of Man Collectors


During the latter half of 2016, the Manx Museum held a highly successful three month exhibition by the acclaimed artist Roger Dean, perhaps most well known for his iconic album cover designs for Yes, Asia, Uriah Heep and Osibisa plus the original Virgin Records logo.

The art and works of Roger Dean are included in the permanent collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum and in discerning private collections around the world.

The Isle of Man exhibition, entitled “Islands and Bridges”, included 26 of his most well known paintings, plus some of the architectural models on which his unique building designs are based.

At the same time, the Isle of Man post office released a set of six unique stamps featuring five of his album cover artworks, plus a sixth painting, The Meeting Place, inspired by Niarbyl where Roger had visited on one of his recent visits to the Island. Roger hosted several sessions at the exhibition with local artists and students of all ages and the visitors included many who had travelled to the Island especially to view the collection.

The exhibition closed in November and the paintings travelled on to other exhibitions in the UK, Singapore and Miami. However, a number of the original pieces plus sketches and prints returned to the Island in late December to the Sayle Gallery so that for the first time they would be available for purchase in the Isle of Man. There is a continuous display at the Sayle Gallery in Douglas, supported by the Sleepwell Hotel group.


Interest in Roger’s work from Island residents has continued and now four of his paintings, Pathways at Night (from the YES Progeny album set), plus two studies created for the Moody Blues guitarist John Lodge as the cover design for Natural Avenues and a further study, Space Tree, have been acquired by Island resident art collectors at their catalogue valuations. These have gone into a private collection on the Island.

Three further major works, plus a range of local interest edition prints currently remain on exhibition at the Sayle Gallery, which has become the established location on the Isle of Man for original works and fine art prints by Roger Dean. Roger is also continuing to develop architectural projects for clients on the Island including both residential and holiday village concepts.


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The John Nicholson Annual £500 Bursary Award


The Foundation is an Island charity which was founded following the death of John Hobson Nicholson in 1988. John was the only British artist of the 20th century to have designed coins, stamps and banknotes. His outstanding talent was recognised worldwide and he was awarded membership of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours.

The object of the Foundation as specified by John is to “advance visual arts in the Isle of Man……by way of grants, awards bursaries or prizes “.

Since its formation, the Foundation has supported many local artists and recently it has been able to make an annual bursary award of £500 as well as other minor awards at the discretion of the Council of Management. The 2016 /17 Bursary holder is Robin Burchill from KWC.

Applications are now invited for the 2017/18 Award. The Bursary Year will run from October 1st 2017 until September 30th 2018 Applications should be addressed to the Secretary at the above address and must be received by Friday May 19th 2017.

All applications should include:-
Full details of the applicant………………………………….
(e.g., Name, address, age, email, contact Tel. No., etc.)

Name and details of proposer…….. (Tutor, teacher if applicable. Applicants can apply without a proposer).

Your preferred medium……………….
(John Nicholson worked in water colour, oil, pastel, charcoal and pencil, but all media will be considered).

Tell us why you would benefit from this award.
…………….. ………………..
(Applicants will be preferred for whom this award will enable them to expand potential that otherwise might be constrained financially).

If you would like more details regarding the Bursary or wish to apply for assistance from the Foundation (i.e. young artists needing help with materials etc.)., please contact the secretary at:

Secretary: R G Barrs
Ballakewin Olde Farm
Foxdale Road