August 21, 2007

Tracey Emin at the Venice Biennale 2007

Filed under: The Body,Venice 07 — Graham Coulter-Smith @ 12:35 pm

When Tracey Emin was invited to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale it was reported that she responded by stating
‘I’m thrilled. It’s a great honour and a fantastic challenge’ (Independent Aug 06). It was certainly an honour especially when Arifa Akbar notes that Emin is ‘only the second solo female artist ever to have been selected for the … [British Pavilion] in the history of the Biennale’ and ‘will produce a new work for the British Pavilion for the show’ (Independent). Akbar also notes that ‘the British Council, which commissioned Emin for the exhibition, commended the ‘quality and strength of her work at the moment’. Akbar quotes Andrea Rose the British Council’s director of visual arts stating that it was Emin’s ‘story-telling’ skills and her ‘extraordinary ability to scratch away the surfaces to what lies below’ rather than her celebrity status that had led the advisory panel to make their decision (Independent).

Perhaps we expected too much but we certainly didn’t predict the crashing disappointment that we received when entering the British Pavilion. The work was competent, but at the turn of the millennium and against the background of Emin’s previous work it was highly conservative (PHOTO 1). It would have been radical once, in the 1950s for example when Cy Twombly was developing his graffiti style.

Back in 2006 the British Council had suggested that it would be a ‘great moment to see … [Emin’s] work in the context of the Venice Biennale, shown in an international context’ (Independent). Unfortunately, in the context of the 2007 Venice Biennale her work is embarassingly backward set against the truly excellent work by Sophie Calle in the French Pavillion, Aernout Mik in the Dutch Pavilion, Felix Gonzalez-Torres in the US Pavillion, Isa Genzken in the German Pavilion, Hyungkoo Lee in the Korean Pavilion, Daniel von Sturmer in the Australian Pavilion, the works shown in the Russian Pavilion, the works in the Nordic Pavilion and one could go on. Emin showed the weakest aspect of her artistic output and one hopes that she will not continue to emphasise this particular vein.

Check out also Richard Dorment’s comments which mix tabloid-like grumblings with a few genuine insights into the weaknesses of the work Emin showed at the 52nd Venice Biennale (Dorment); and see also (Hornan). Both Dorment and Horan are men who write for the right-wing British broadsheet the Telegraph, and it is to be expected that they would be antagonistic to the success of a female artist with working class origins, and the reader should bear the bias of these writers in mind when reading these pieces. Nevertheless, with respect to Hornan’s observation that Gillian Wearing, Tacita Dean and Douglas Gordon were originally put forward, not Emin, it can be noted that of these artists (Gordon, Dean, Wearing and Emin) it is Wearing, not Emin, who is the most interesting and significant.

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