Tracey Emin/Edvard Munch: The Loneliness of the Soul at the Royal Academy
The art world was startled recently when Tracey Emin revealed in an interview that she had been diagnosed with cancer and had undergone an operation in which parts of her reproductive organs were removed. The highly esteemed creator said that she was saved by her artistic output; she was working on a painting of a cancerous lump when she felt a pain in her abdomen caused by a malign tumour. Emin is now in remission but still needs to wear a stoma bag.
This context adds considerable pathos to the extremely personal exhibition opening at the Royal Academy this week. The multidisciplinary artist claims she has been “in love” with the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch since she was 18 years old. For this show, she has chosen a selection of her acrylics on canvas, small sculptures and neon pieces that she feels relate to Munch’s work. In particular, the curated collection speaks closely to the iconic Scandanavian’s nuanced portrayals of women, a number of which are integrated into the display.
These are touching, intimate depictions of loneliness and grief. Emin’s large, bold paintings, dripping with acrylic streaks of red, are given disconcertingly simple, emotional titles: Because You Kept Touching Me or Because You Left. The showcase presents a tale of damage and pain conveyed through the female nude.
However, the standard isn’t completely consistent throughout the exhibition. Perhaps it’s a matter of personal taste, but Emin’s standing figures appear somehow less successful than those which are sitting or reclining, and they seem less intimately related to Munch’s beautiful, colourful sketches.
The best works can be found in the first room of this compact show. On entering the space, visitors are immediately faced with Emin’s Ruined, an almost-abstracted image of a woman’s vagina. Its muted swirls of colour undermine the gendered violence hinted at by the somewhat devastating title; the piece takes on a newly poignant significance in the light of the past Turner prize nominee’s recent diagnosis and operation.
From Munch’s quietly melancholic sketches to Emin’s painterly expressions of lost love, this is an exhibition of great personal beauty and sadness, forging connections of human emotion across art made 100 years apart.
Photo: Xavier Hufkens (It – Didn’t Stop – I Didn’t Stop, Tracey Emin, 2019)
Tracey Emin/Edvard Munch: The Loneliness of the Soul is at the Royal Academy from 15th November until 28th February 2021. For further information visit the exhibition’s website here.