Tracey Emin Sees the Writing on the Wall
by laura van straaten
After her first solo museum show in the US , Tracey Emin takes up residence in Miami to live, work, create, and, as she puts it, “relax.”
The “Angel Without You” show at MOCA.
The first time British artist Tracey Emin visited Miami, the city left its mark on her—and not just in the metaphorical sense. “I got stung on my elbow by jellyfish and still have scars!” says Emin, an avid swimmer, of that initial trip to Miami Beach. But she loved the Magic City, so much so that she decided to take up a residence here.
Miami, so far, has proven to be a welcoming respite for the boundary-pushing creator. “I wish I had come here earlier,” she says of her newfound retreat, near the Fontainebleau Miami Beach on Indian Creek, demurring to give further details to protect her privacy. “I love the architecture of Miami. There’s a fecundity in Miami; I feel good….”
Her new South Florida apartment is just one of the luxuries that, after an upbringing marked by instability, Emin says she now allows herself. “My big indulgence now is property,” explains the artist, whose pieces can be found in the private collections of such high-profile connoisseurs as Joan Collins, David Bowie, Elton John, and Madonna. “I was invited to stay in people’s houses and got tired of always being the guest.”
Artist Tracey Emin, seen here drawing in her studio, creates controversial works that can be found in the private collections of everyone from Madonna to Joan Collins and Elton John.
In contrast to her loud art, Emin herself keeps a low profile while in town, and her Miami routine is a restorative one. “I [go] to rest and be peaceful, not to socialize,” says Emin, who lists Soho Beach House, The Dutch, and yes, even Walgreens, as a few of her favorite local spots. “I love the terrace of my little apartment. I sit there drinking tea and watch the clouds go by.” She even brought a cadre of UK pals to see her new work and new life here. “I had a couple hundred people over from London and the majority really loved Miami.”
In a spirit of reciprocation, the artist too has left a lasting impression on the Magic City: Emin’s neon creations have been snatched up by private art collectors all along the beach; hotels such as the Fontainebleau hosted her book signing and displayed her work; and her recent neon show, “Angel Without You”—a first in the US for her—was on display this spring at the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami. All of it solidified her love affair with Miami. “I really love the sun beds; they remind me of where I grew up,” says Emin. “Miami is a major contradiction of man-made [development] and architecture that has completely taken over. But yet the nature is ever present.”
The artist (SECOND FROM LEFT) with Ingrid Sischy, Sandra Brant, and Alex Gartenfeld at the MOCA + Vanity Fair International Art Basel party last year.
Her neon exhibition at MOCA—illuminated sayings spelled out in Emin’s own handwriting, complete with her own capitalization and punctuation peccadilloes—captured pithy but personal emotional tidbits that seemed like the mantras, mottoes, and maxims one might scribble in a diary: YOU FORGOT TO KISS MY SOUL; EVERY PART OF ME'S BLEEDING; I LOVED YOU MORE THAN I CAN LOVE; and PEOPLE LIKE YOU NEED TO FUCK PEOPLE LIKE ME—a particularly popular piece that had fans queued up waiting to take selfies. “I’ve wanted to do a pure neon show for a long time,” says Emin, who was brought up in an area with lots of neon and nightlife, the somewhat tawdry seaside town of Margate, on a peninsula east of London. Miami, with its neon-lit history, was the perfect place to debut her work. “[They] work on the level where it’s like the lyrics to a song that you think you know but you don’t,” she says. “It’s not one dimension.”
The words expressed in fluorescence were of an intimate nature, things you might hide, yet here, Emin turned them into bright, brazen signage akin to Washington Avenue marquees. That very tension made them artful to some, including famous fans like actor Kevin Spacey, artists Mickalene Thomas and Damien Hirst, photographer Bruce Weber, and Pharrell Williams. Others found Emin’s work distasteful; few are neutral about her pieces. But as author Jeannette Winterson wrote, “The noisy arguments around Emin’s work are good for art. Nothing is worse for art than a rarefied remote state, where the thing languishes in the lands of connoisseurship and curators.”
Beach towels with Emin’s KISS ME KISS ME COVER MY BODY IN LOVE draped the poolside lounge chairs at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach during Art Basel.
It was two other controversial art installations that initially put Emin on the international map: her famously slept-in My Bed (1998) and her Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995 (1995), a tent appliquéd with the names of everyone she has ever shared a bed with, platonically or otherwise. Winterson wrote that those two works in particular had a “huge impact—Duchamp ‘Urinal’ impact, or Warhol ‘Soup Can’ impact—because they found a way of containing the mesmeric and iconic properties of art within the most commonplace of objects.”
Miami, with our gallimaufry of cultures, our collection of immigrants, is a town where one has the power and freedom to reinvent oneself. “Power for me is to have choice, choice of freedom, choice of identity. I’m not Mrs. Anybody; I am Tracey Emin. I have my own autonomy.”
Says Emin, “I’ve been doing what I do for so long, they realize that I’m not going away. This is my work; this is my life. I’m an artist and I’m here to stay.”
photography Courtesy of Art Basel; by paul Morris/courtesy of fontainebleau Miami Beach (towels); daniel portnoy (MOCA show); manny hernandez (sischy)
Cover shoot: Behind the scenes with Pitbull for the October 2014 issue of Ocean Drive magazine.