Tracey Emin / Desire and anxiety



Since the 1990s, Tracey EMIN has explored the fundamental themes of human relations – sexuality, desire, communication, incommunicability, tenderness, violence, etc. – without limiting herself to any particular medium: her works have a strong symbolic and cathartic power. Indeed, it is not surprising that Emin became befriended and colluded artistically with Louise BOURGEOIS! The grand old French-American artist, who died on 31 May 2010 in New York, was touched by the sensitivity of Tracey’s work and she left her the task of finishing sixteen gouache works. These works are currently exhibited at Hauser & Wirth in London (Louise Bourgeois, Tracey Emin Do Not Abandon Me, 18 February – 12 March 2011).

Two generations separate their talents (Louise Bourgeois was born in 1911 and Tracey Emin in 1963), half a century of career that naturally accounts for a substantial price differential; drawings by Louise Bourgeois fetching roughly ten times those by Tracey Emin. Louise Bourgeois’ better inks and gouaches fetch between $50,000 and $100,000 on average whereas one can pick up a drawing by the Young British Artist for between $4,000 and $6,000. Indeed, a short phrase written in felt pen by the English artist can be acquired for $1,000 to $1,500 at auction such as I’m in two Minds about being schizofrenic which fetched £800 (approx. $1,400) at Phillips de Pury & Company on 6 September 2008. A longer sentence by Louise Bourgeois Le Désir est mon ami il est couleur du ciel et de tes yeux, t’attends et puis j’entends tes pas et puis ta voix fetched the equivalent of $17,800 on 31 May 2010 at Christie’s Paris.

But the price differential is particularly visible for the two artists’ more important works: fourteen of Bourgeois’ major sculptures have generated 7-figure dollar results, including one record equivalent to $4m for a Spider which sold at Christie’s Paris on 27 May 2008 (€2.55m). Tracey Emin’s auction best is £130,000 ($203,000) for her seminal work It’s The Way We Think, which is somewhat reminiscent of her famous Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995 installation that was first exhibited to the pubic at the Royal Academy of London in Charles Saatchi’s 1997 Sensation show.

Indeed that exhibition marked the launch of the YBAs, spearheaded by Damien HIRST, two years younger than Tracey and who has already belittled Louise Bourgeois’ auction record on several occasions. In effect, Hirst’s auction record is equivalent to $17.1m for Lullaby Spring (Sotheby’s London, on 21 June 2007).