Everything is external to me,
and knowledge she had lived through, her artistic path towards greater and greater prominence. Her infamy came with her 1998 installation My Bed, which consisted of a very messy bed that defined the heartache of a broken-down romance, and which was shortlisted for the Turner Prize. Although she did not win the prize, she became a celebrated artist, with Charles Saatchi initially acquiring the work, which was recently sold for £2.54 million at Christie’s, acquired by a German businessman who has since lent it to the Tate, where the bed now sleeps.
Tracey never looked back. Her development as an artist has risen inexorably through a vast body of work in paintings, drawings, installations, monoprints, photography, neon, fabric, sculpture, film and publication. In recognition of her achievements, Tracey was appointed a Royal Academician and more—a professor of drawing at the Royal Academy of Arts. Then even the queen noticed and she was given the CBE gong, which is the usual precursor to a damehood.
Meanwhile, Tracey continues to work and create. Her early obsession with Egon Schiele brought her full circle to an exhibition she recently had in the Leopold Museum in Vienna, juxtaposing her works against his. And, of course, she has just had an elephantine exhibition of new work at the White Cube in London.
We in Hong Kong will be treated, at Art Basel in March, to an exhibition of her works represented not by one, but two galleries. Through it, we will be able to witness Tracey’s absolute passion for art. “Everything is external to me, except art, which is with me all the time. Even at my lowest and darkest ebbs, art has saved me,” so Tracey told us boldly near the end of our conversation at the China Exchange.
I then talked to her about her impending visit to Hong Kong. “So what has taken you all this time to mount an exhibition in Hong Kong?” I asked. “It hasn’t been that long!” she protested. “Just that none of the opportunities previously had worked out. But this year, we are going boldly forward and my show straddles Lehmann Maupin as well as White Cube. So it seems I am making up my time in Hong Kong, which is a city I love.”
“As you intimated,” I asked, “in your previous neon My Heart is with You Always brazenly projected onto the facade of The Peninsula in 2014?”
“Yer, I like your water, your history and your romance. It’s a good place to fall in love.”
So we now also know Tracey always falls in love, and always wants to fall in love. In her big exhibition in Hong Kong during Art Basel, all of us living in her perceived water and history and romance will, I hope, all fall in love. But we need to be careful, I suspect, for the name of her exhibition is I Cried Because I Love You, and that must mean there is a price for love. “Do you cry when you are in love, Tracey?” “I do cry, because I love someone.” At this point, I felt the vibrations of TS Eliot’s The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, which somehow relates to me my feelings for Tracey’s work: “Let us go then, you and I, / When the evening is spread out against the sky / Like a patient etherised upon a table; / Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets, / The muttering retreats / Of restless night in one-night cheap hotels / And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells: / Streets that follow like a tedious argument / Of insidious intent / To lead you to an overwhelming question … / Oh, do not ask, ‘ What is it?’ / Let us go and make our visit.”
Yes, let us all go then and make our visit to Tracey’s show, and discover her arguments and love: “In the room the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo.”
I Cried Because I Love You is at Lehmann Maupin and White Cube from March 21 to May 21.