The most famous bed in art

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The most famous bed in art

 

For some it’s Van Gogh’s beautifully desolate bed in his 1888 painting The Bedroom, and for others it might be Edvard Munch’s harrowing bed of illness in his 1907 masterpiece The Sick Child.

 

But last year the art world voted with its wallet as Tracey Emin’s infamous The Bed art installation was sold at Christie’s for over £2.5 million.

 

So what was it about this artwork that caused such an incredible price tag?

 

The physical artwork

 

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At first glance, there seems to be very little significant about The Bed. It is simply an unmade bed in some state of disrepair. But with a closer look, the bed tells a haunting story all of it’s own.

 

Littered around the bed are fragments of a disturbed mind. Used condoms, empty vodka bottles and an array of personal items including underwear and Polaroids all form a snapshot of a few days described by Emin as being characterised by a ‘suicidal depression’ brought on by relationship problems.

 

The message

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In a way, it’s highly personal and brutal account of a period of time that Emin was living through. All of the objects gathered come together to make an explicit picture of unhappiness.

 

The bed itself should be a place of safety and tranquility. But here it’s blown apart and reveals the torment of the artist’s mind. The choice of bed itself is a daring decision. Rather than a comfortable leather bed, it’s a barely functional place of restless self-destruction.

 

And in the process, it says something larger about society too. Whereas in previous artworks that have used beds such as Carpaccio’s The Dream of St Ursula, the sleeping female experiences holy visions and sleep is equated to holiness and purity.

 

But with Emin’s work, the absence of the female illustrates a modern gender shift where the heroine is eliminated by darkly powerful forces in the place of modern consumerist items of decadence such as cigarette packets and discarded contraceptives.

 

Historical precedents

 

Prior to this Emin had built a solid reputation for her confrontational and unconventional works. Mirroring the early Dadaist works of Duchamp’s Fountain that presented the viewer with a stark urinal, it leads the viewer to question what art actually is.

 

And in doing so, The Bed triumphantly blurs the lines between the face that we present to the outside world, and the inner self that holds our deepest wishes, desires and dreams.

 

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