Tracey Emin/ Edvard Munch:  The Loneliness of the Soul at the Royal Academy

Tracey Emin/ Edvard Munch:  The Loneliness of the Soul at the Royal Academy


Rudyard Kipling once said, ‘He wrapped himself in quotations – as a beggar would enfold himself in the purple of Emperors.’ Tracey Emin has done something not dissimilar with Art. Standing alongside an artist of superior talent, or even in his shadow, she hoped this would enhance her own, but, sadly, this ploy fails on two counts. Firstly, is her choice of Edvard Munch’s work. She says she went through all of Munch’s archives. ‘I looked at 800 paintings, 2,000 watercolours, millions of woodcuts and graphic works.’ Yet, she has come out with a fairly uninspired selection of works, which she has interspersed with her own daubs, and here lies the second failure. Her work is scratchy, spare, ill-conceived and badly drawn. I remember the incredulity voiced when she was promoted to Professor of Drawing at the Royal Academy Schools, and, as I have observed before, a little like Tom Lehrer ceasing to write any more satirical verse when Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize. How has Trace managed to insinuate herself into the art establishment and particularly the Royal Academy? Maybe they felt they should drag themselves into the twentieth century, even though we were firmly in the twenty-first, and appear to be a little less stodgy, and more ‘woke’, as they might now say.

There is one redeeming work by the great Emin, halfway up the stairs from the Burlington Gardens entrance, and that is a charming little bronze bird on a shelf, entitled The only place you came to me was in my sleep. She also produced a poignant little sculpture on the railings of the Foundling Hospital, a polychrome child’s glove in bronze; so she does possess certain talents, but not, it would seem, for painting and drawing. Munch, on the other hand, has a innate skill for drawing and painting, and even though his subject matter is a touch maudlin, if not introspectively full of angst, the manner in which he portrays grief, loneliness, rejection, loss and longing, is palpable. Emin has hopped on this emotional bandwagon and hijacked the exhibition with her needy me-me-me exhortations of her own tragic life, and presumably her own recent brush with cancer, empathising with Munch’s own life in turmoil. In a hagiographic interview in the accompanying guide by Edith Devaney, she confesses to being unable to do foreshortening, and unable to judge the distance of things. ‘My big breakthrough was getting glasses and being able to actually see. Once I got some glasses I could suddenly understand why I couldn’t draw.’ I think another trip to ‘Specsavers’ could sort out her problem again. There are a couple of her trademark neon aphorisms, one reading, ‘My Cunt is Wet with Fear’, and another saying ‘More Solitude’, but they are presumably up on the walls as shock tactics. This show was originally meant to open the relocated Munchmuseet to the waterfront in Oslo, but was postponed because of Covid, and London became the host by default. Whose loss or whose gain is debatable. 


Royal Academy

The Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries

Until 1 August 2021

Admission £17

About author