Art can be an odd medium at the best of times, though it becomes incomprehensible to most when we look at modern art. There have been many bizarre iterations of contemporary art seen over the year, including the likes of a dress made of meat and a dead shark being captured in formaldehyde, yet none have gained quite the level of renown (or notoriety) as Tracey Emin’s ‘My Bed’.

‘Created’ in 1998, ‘My Bed’ is literally that; Emin’s own bed. To those who are unfamiliar with it, ‘My Bed’ is a bed that looks like it’s not been made in weeks, surrounded by empty vodka bottles, cigarette stubs, and used condoms. There’s also a sad looking blue rug, adorned with dirty slippers and old underwear, and a pair of suitcases clad in chains behind it. There was originally a noose hanging near the small bedside table as well, though this removed due to the symbolism being a little too ‘on the nose’. It’s a divisive piece of art, and it’s weird no matter how you look at it.

The story behind ‘My Bed’ is a rather tragic one though, as it was in this bed that Emin stayed for four consecutive days and nights after a particularly terrible break up. While she was in her tomb of soiled sheets and discarded female hygiene products she ate nothing, drank only vodka and contemplated suicide. It was only after her fourth day of this self-imposed imprisonment that she stopped and noticed what she had made in the wake of her heartache; art.

My bed (Tracey Emin)

Image Source: fry_theonly/Tracey Emin/Tate Britain under CC BY-SA 2.0

Unveiled at the Tate Gallery in 1999, ‘My Bed’ was shortlisted for the prestigious Turner Prize, yet it did not win. Ironically enough, the actual winner of the 1999 Turner Prize, Steve McQueen for a video based on a Buster Keaton film, is significantly less known than Tracey Emin and received less attention from the media because of her entry.

Many argued, and still do to this day, that ‘My Bed’ isn’t art. The most common piece of criticism is that at the end of the day it’s mostly ‘just an unmade bed’; something that anyone could showcase. Emin has always retorted that despite it being something that ‘anyone could do’ no one ever had done it before.

For all the negative lights cast on it there are stories of inspiration taken from ‘My Bed’, including one where the inspiration was a result of being on the bed. Cai Yuan and Jian Jun Xi, two Chinese-born British-based performance artists, climbed onto ‘My Bed’ topless while it was on display at Tate Britain and proceeded to have a pillow fight, to which the crowd cheered, before security escorted them out, to which the crowd booed.

The act was titled ‘Two Naked Men Jump into Tracey’s Bed’ and they said that they wanted to complete the piece by adding more sexual themes into it, which probably wouldn’t have provoked much more cheering from the crowd if they’d been able to carry that out. They were arrested but not formally charged, as both the gallery and Emin stated that they didn’t really have an issue with the act.

Despite the many opinions floating around about ‘My Bed’ most would be hard pressed not to call it art in one form or another, for the price it was sold for if nothing else. Originally sold to Charles Saatchi at the price of £150,000, ‘My Bed’ was featured in his first exhibition in the Saatchi Gallery. After the exhibit vacated its premises at County Hall in London, Saatchi installed the bed in a room dedicated to it in his own home, so he was certainly an undeniable fan.

Those believing the £150,000 price tag to be too steep would be shocked to hear that when ‘My Bed’ went to auction in May 2014 it was valued at £800,000 to £1.2 million; an estimate that Emin’s New York based dealer, David Maupin, described as too low. He may have been right, as when it was auctioned in July 2014 it sold for over £2.5 million.

Even lovers of art would probably call that price a little ridiculous for an unmade bed, especially when you can get a custom made, beautiful bespoke bed for a fraction of the price.

And that’s a concise look at Emin’s ‘My Bed’, what are your thoughts on the matter? Is it a contemporary masterpiece or an example of an artistic cop-out? Share your thoughts with us on Facebook, tag us on Instagram or give us a tweet on Twitter.

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