My Bed by Tracey Emin

“My Bed” by Tracey Emin – Between the Sheets of Art

My Bed by Tracey Emin is an installation piece depicting the artist’s private life being made public in an unapologetic way. This article will explore this raw and unabashed “self-portrait” of a time in Emin’s life when she faced emotional and mental challenges. Read on below and let us uncover the unmade bed and the strewn objects around it.



Artist Abstract: Who Is Tracey Emin?

Tracey Karima Emin was born in Croydon in South London, England on July 3, 1963. She is a multifaceted conceptual artist with artworks ranging from painting, sculpture, applique, photography, and more. She is part of the Young British Artists movement. She studied Fashion at the Medway College of Design, Printmaking at Maidstone Art College, and obtained her MA in Painting at the Royal College of Art.

Her art career consists of her life’s experiences and has been described as “confessional”.

Tracey Emin Art Photograph of Boris Johnson and Tracey Emin at the launch of Arlington House (2010); issyeyre, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Controversial aspects of life from sex, relationships, emotional and mental health challenges, substance use, and more have been some of her topics. Examples of her artworks include Everyone I Have Ever Slept With (1963 – 1995) (1995), I’ve Got It All (2000), and You Forgot to Kiss My Soul (2007).



My Bed (1998) by Tracey Emin in Context

ArtistTracey Karima Emin (1963 – Present)
Date Created 1998
Medium Box frame, mattress, linens, pillows, and several other objects
GenreInstallation art
Period/Movement Young British Artists
Dimensions (centimeters)79 x 211 x 234
Series/Versions N/A
Where Is It Housed?Tate Britain, United Kingdom
What It Is Worth First bought by Charles Saatchi for £150, 000 in 2000. Sold in July 2014 for £2,546,500 at Christie’s auction to Jay Jopling.

In a contextual analysis below, you will learn more about what prompted Tracey Emin to create an installation of her unmade bed. Additionally, a formal analysis will describe what this installation consists of.


Contextual Analysis: A Brief Socio-Historical Overview

If you look at the Tracey Emin art collection you will notice one of her dominant themes is depicting moments from her own life and, often, difficult, and painful experiences, from relationships to depressive states, Emin does not fall short or hold back what she chooses to express, whether in a neon sign or simply an unmade bed.

My Bed was created in 1998 after Tracey Emin experienced depression from a breakup with someone that she reportedly deeply loved, which left her, literally, bedridden.

She stated in an interview that she had a “mini nervous breakdown” and did not leave her flat or get out of bed for “four days”, and on two of those days, she reportedly slept. When she eventually got up, she made her way to the kitchen for some water and noticed how dirty the rest of her flat was, and what had happened. She reportedly imagined what that scene would look like in another space, with everything trans placed into a “clear” and “white” space. This moment inspired her to take her bed out of her flat and set up shop, so to say, in a space where it transformed into an installation.

Unmade Bed Sensation Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection installed at the Brooklyn Museum October 2, 1999, featuring Tracey Emin’s Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995 (1995); Brooklyn Museum, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

However, Emin also described her bedridden state as a “beautiful place” that kept her alive and that the bed “saved” her. According to the artist, the scene looked like a “damsel in distress, like a woman fainting or something, needing to be helped”. She has also described it as a “self-portrait”.

My Bed is a visual portrayal of deeper issues relating to depression, relationships, sexuality, shame, and more. Notably, it brings a woman’s lived inner experience to the external space, and the seemingly private or hidden aspects of life and living are confronted through public display.

My Bed by Tracey Emin was first exhibited in Japan, and according to an interview done with the artist, she was met with resistance from customs. Emin reportedly utilized a different mattress in Japan and transported the sheets and other items in her suitcases. She stated, “I think they looked at it like a crime scene – the Japanese customs were horrified by it”. Interestingly, the Japanese audience was also “disgusted” by her slippers.

Unmade Bed by Tracey Emin Tracey Emin at the Lighthouse Gala Auction (2007); Piers Allardyce, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

When Emin’s unmade bed was exhibited in America, at the Tate, she explained it was treated like a neo-feminist art. However, the artist is known to refute her work as being completely feminist and has noted that it depicts “general human experiences”. In an interview she was asked if she describes herself as a “feminist artist” and she replied, “No, I would describe myself as a feminist”.



Formal Analysis: A Brief Compositional Overview

My Bed by Tracey Emin is an installation work of art depicting the artist’s own unmade bed. The formal analysis will provide a visual description of the subject matter, which is all the items that compose this artwork. It will also briefly outline how the art elements appear. It is important to bear in mind that the art elements compose a three-dimensional installation piece, which compares to the traditional two-dimensional paintings on canvas, in other words, everything that composes My Bed is real. 


Subject Matter: Visual Description

My Bed by Tracey Emin is a physical snapshot of a moment in time of the artist’s bedroom. Only here her unmade bed, embellished by an assortment of objects next to it, is placed in an empty room in an art gallery. Two suitcases appear to stand on the left side of the bed, which are tied together. Interestingly, according to the artist, these were not initially meant to be part of the artwork.

There is also personal significance to these suitcases, and she tied them together because one is a representation of her past, the chequered suitcase, and the other of her future, when she bought a Samsonite suitcase, which signified “change and movement and internationalism” according to the artist.

The bed consists of a mattress on a wooden base. There is a sheet loosely hung over the mattress with a crumpled duvet cover, another sheet, four pillows, and a pair of stockings. It appears as if someone has been lying and moving around in the bed due to the disheveled sheets that also have body fluids on them.

On the bed’s right side is a dark blue carpet/rug where a small wooden stool and a variety of objects are, all on the floor next to the bed. These objects include slippers, empty alcohol bottles, cigarette boxes, a toy, a belt, polaroids, toiletries like a razor blade, underwear, condoms, contraceptives, and a candle, among other items.



The color scheme is somewhat neutral, the bedding is an off-white color and the dark blue of the carpet/rug on the floor creates a bit of a contrast. The items around the bed collectively appear neutral with small pops of color here and there. 



There are no implied textures in My Bed by Tracey Emin and all the tactile qualities are from the objects themselves, which range from the softer sheets to the harder surfaces of the bedside table for example.



The naturally occurring lines are curved and irregular with some straight lines created by the bed’s wooden base and the carpet on the floor.


Shape and Form

The shape and forms are naturalistic because it is a real-life installation. The bed is more geometric in shape, a square-rectangular shape and the carpet also creates a square-like shape on the floor. The sheets on the bed and objects around it are all irregular forms creating a subtle contrast between the bed’s shape. 



The space that the Tracey Emin art, My Bed, occupies is three-dimensional, more specifically, it is inside the gallery room, and the bed and all its items become the focal point. Additionally, there is enough space around the installation to view it from all angles.



My Bed Is Our Bed

Along with her other artwork, Everyone I Have Ever Slept With, 1965 – 1993, which is also titled The Tent (1995), My Bed has been a catalyst of an artwork to the artist and her art career, but for the rest of the world too. My Bed is a testament to the depths that underpin the visual realities of what is known as Tracy Emin art. This installation was a heartfelt and candid depiction of an event in the artist’s life.


My Bed by Tracey Emin is a physical representation and reminder of what Tracey Emin, and all of us, are, which is just human. We all have our own baggage and ruffled sheets in some shape or form that hold significance to us, and reflects what we have been through in life. What has been My Bed has become, in a way, our bed.




Frequently Asked Questions


What Is My Bed by Tracey Emin?

My Bed (1998) was an installation by the conceptual artist Tracey Emin. It consisted of her unmade bed and sheets, as well as a variety of objects around it from a time when she went through a severe depressive episode and could not get out of bed. 


Where Is Tracey Emin’s Unmade Bed?

My Bed (1998) by Tracey Emin is part of the art collection at the Tate Britain in the United Kingdom. It was exhibited at the Tate in 1999, and was nominated for the Turner Prize.


What Is My Bed by Tracey Emin Worth?

My Bed (1998) by Tracey Emin was first sold to Charles Saatchi in 2000 for £150, 000. In July of 2014, it was sold for £2,546,500 at a Christie’s auction to Jay Jopling, who is an art dealer and the owner of the White Cube gallery in London.


Cite this Article

Alicia, du Plessis, ““My Bed” by Tracey Emin – Between the Sheets of Art.” Art in Context. December 21, 2023. URL:

du Plessis, A. (2023, 21 December). “My Bed” by Tracey Emin – Between the Sheets of Art. Art in Context.

du Plessis, Alicia. ““My Bed” by Tracey Emin – Between the Sheets of Art.” Art in Context, December 21, 2023.

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