Vital Signs

Lynne Gentle on Tracey Emin at White Cube


Left: Artist Tracey Emin. Right: A view of Tracey Emin's show at White Cube. (All photos: Lynne Gentle)

MASON’S YARD IN SAINT JAMES’S was the place to be in London on Thursday night for Tracey Emin’s “Those Who Suffer Love” at White Cube, and Abraham Cruzvillegas around the corner at Thomas Dane Gallery. Economic green shoots of recovery or not, the evening provided just the high-spirited fuel injection London needed to remind itself of its indomitable upper lip and famously plucky style.

The weather was superb, the designer shades were big, the heels were death-defying, and there were mountains of décolletage as far as the eye could see—coincidence, perhaps, but I suspected homage to endowed and proud Ms. T. Emin. A steady succession of glossy, purring motors dispatched oiled and dapper Euro-men sporting size 0 arm candy. Everyone was groomed and dressed to the nines—a rare spectacle in London, where the drizzle often defeats even the most determined sartorial efforts. Vaguely familiar-looking model types pushed past aggressive bouncers while the paparazzi circled the building, unsure whom to point their cameras at first.

Celebrity interior designer Nicky Haslam, finally working “a look” befitting both his age and his enthusiasm for fashion, duly paused for some snaps. Inside, copies of One Thousand Drawings, Emin’s new limited-edition book of drawings and monoprints, were flying off the shelf faster than punters could part with their £225.

Where Emin’s work was once shocking and self-consciously “obscene,” it now seems almost quaint; its poetry has outshone its shock value. The exhibition, comprising neon, animation, sculpture, and works on paper, was beautifully hung, and even the animation of a woman (certainly the artist) masturbating felt almost PG-13.

Left: Designer and DJ Pam Hogg (right). Right: Saatchi Gallery director Nigel Hurst.

The scene at Thomas Dane Gallery around the corner was sedate and well mannered. Mexican artist Abraham Cruzvillegas’s exhibition featured a two-screen video work of interviews with his parents, a set of drawn musical scores, and a group of sculptures. While the “assemblages” (as they were termed) could have enjoyed a bit more breathing space, overall it’s a visually tactile show, one that incorporates a cornucopia of detritus and found objects, including scrap plywood interwoven with huge aloe vera leaves and even a string of fresh limes.

By contrast, the breathing space over at the new Saatchi Gallery on the ever-trendy Kings Road was so fresh, vast, and gorgeous, it threatened to outstrip the art within. “Abstract America: New Painting and Sculpture,” an exhibition featuring works by thirty-three young American artists, apparently attracted some fifteen hundred guests that night––but it was hard to tell––the space is so huge, even that staggering number of people didn’t make a crowd.

More afterthought than afterparty, the on-site reception for the artists was something of an anticlimax after the dazzle of the gallery. Though the food was delicious and the champagne free-flowing, the small room we were ushered into was airless and unburdened by art-world heavyweights, or even many artists. Meanwhile, back at White Cube HQ, Jay Jopling hosted a celebratory dinner. Few artists could have pulled a more impressive lineup of guests. As fashion and art go hand in hand these days—Emin herself is rarely caught out underdressed—designers were de rigueur and included the iconic Vivienne Westwood, jeweler Theo Fennell, Betty Jackson, and model Natalia Vodianova, as well as fashion designer–cum-DJ and Emin gal pal Pam Hogg. Catering was masterminded by fashionable foodie Mark Hix, featuring his singular take on classic British dining––beef followed by posh jelly (Jello) and fruit.

Left: Nicky Haslam. Right: Sir Norman Rosenthal (right) with his daughter.

Capping off the night was a postdinner party hosted by the artist at “her place,” though anyone hoping for a nosy glimpse of le vrai lit d’Emin was in for disappointment, as the party was in her (bedless) studio. Awaiting the arrival of the rest of the mob, I had a look around the space, where canvases were casually placed here and there on the floor, and caterers were bringing out boards laden with cheeses, biscuits, and platter upon platter of oh-so-seasonal chilled asparagus. And speaking of asparagus––every designer-clad woman coming through the door could have hidden behind a single spear.

With still no trace of Emin, guests were getting impatient, and I feared the artist was in danger of becoming one of those Gatsby-esque hosts who fail to attend her own party. But I needn’t have worried. When the hostess finally swept in and hit the dance floor, the party ramped up. The Bee Gees were stayin’ alive on the decks, and the guests followed suit. If the unsinkable Emin has been suffering love, I’m pleased to report she’s showing signs of a positive recovery.