Tracey Emin/Edvard Munch at the Royal Academy of Arts is brutally raw and powerfully emotional art
Time Out says
Tracey Emin lies nude on a bed, weeping and bleeding. Her splintered body is spattered with red, caked in dripping bodily fluids. Opposite, Edvard Munch’s women mirror Emin’s poses in soft watercolours, all staring emptily into the distance. This exhibition of the great Norwegian artist’s paintings of nude women alongside Emin’s own naked self-portraits is dark, harrowing and almost physically painful. Not a lot of laughs here, but a hell of a lot of feelings.
Munch’s images are brutally morose. Every woman he paints is nude, every woman looks somehow broken. In ‘Consolation’, one cries into her hands while another tries to comfort her. You know by the bleakness that she’s failing, that the tears will not stop. Figures sit with arms folded disconsolately in ‘Women in Hospital’, another stares at the ground in ‘Model by a Wicker Chair’. Is it Munch’s gaze that makes them all look so completely destroyed, or were these women in pain already?
Regardless, you see the echo of their pain in Emin’s genuinely stunning paintings. All of Munch’s sorrow and pain seems to have travelled across the decades and found its analogue in Emin’s art. But here the feelings aren’t filtered through someone else’s eyes, they’re all Tracey’s. That’s what makes them hit you so damn hard: they’re so obviously real. The great big washes of red, the deep, angry scrawls of black, the blue dripping like tears: she paints herself at her most vulnerable, naked and open and exposed, and with proper, exasperated, vicious anger.
The titles just reinforce it all: ‘It Didn’t Stop, I Didn’t Stop’, ‘I Never Asked to Fall in Love – You Made Me Feel Like This’, ‘Ruined’, ‘It Was All Too Much’. In one image, the background is scrawled with dripping words about love and memory. The whole thing is so incredibly raw and emotional, like walking in on a stranger crying. And the thing is, these aren’t shocking emotions, they’re things we’ve all felt, we just hide them away and crack on with life. But Emin lets them bleed right out of her and onto the canvas. It’s all too much, too bloody real.
The bronzes she’s done are absolutely terrible though, and the ‘My Cunt is Wet With Fear’ neon is a bit throwaway. And hey, maybe it doesn't need the Munch works, maybe it would have been just as good if it was just three rooms of Emin’s feelings. But either way, you leave with a weight hanging over you, with the suffocating blanket of Emin’s heartache smothering you. It’s not nice, it’s not pleasant, but it is seriously good art.