Tracey Emin And Edvard Munch Capture The Loneliness We All Felt During Lockdown

Emin / Munch, Royal Academy of Arts ★★★★☆

Tracey Emin And Edvard Munch Capture The Loneliness We All Felt During Lockdown Emin / Munch, Royal Academy of Arts 4
An Emin neon from an exhibition that's all about solitude. Collection of Michelle Kennedy and Richard Tyler © Tracey Emin. All rights reserved, DACS 2020

Missing human interaction and reminiscing on days when we could hug our friends whenever we saw them — a simple handshake, even — is something I'm missing right now.

When it comes to capturing that sense of isolation, two artists who lived a century apart are both masters at it. Hence the Royal Academy's decision to pair Norwegian painter Edvard Munch with British contemporary artist Tracey Emin.

Crouching Nude, Edvard Munch. © Munchmuseet.

Their best known works — Munch's The Scream and Emin's Unmade Bed — may not appear to have much in common. But when their paintings are hung side by side, it's clear how Emin was inspired by her predecessor.

Both artists hone in on isolated, vulnerable figures — Munch more subtly so. I become an observer of an uncomfortable nude woman lying in front of me — making me feel that same level of discomfort as a voyeur.

Emin's works are far more obvious; a figure drowns in blood red paint cascading down a canvas — her outlines blurred by the emotional turmoil. Emin doesn't hold back when it comes to intensity, and given her recent cancer treatment it feels all the more visceral. These are women in pain and she wants you to feel it.

Both artists convey that same sense of desperation, even if they go about it quite differently.

Emotional distress in a work by Tracey Emin. © Tracey Emin. All rights reserved, DACS 2020

Nearby to the Royal Academy is a smaller exhibition of Emin's work at White Cube, where I was drawn to the downstairs gallery by a piercing scream. The short video features Emin naked on a pier before the camera pans away and a horrific wail fills the cavernous gallery. It's a heartbreaking piece and its title — Homage to Edvard Munch and all My Dead Children — makes it all the more painful, given the reference to her botched abortion that she suffered a few years before the work was made.   

Emin / Munch is a brilliant exhibition, albeit raw, experience, given everything we've been through this year. Pay it a visit if you're up to it; you'll be richly rewarded. It captures that sense of loneliness I've struggled to put into words, and left me emotionally spent.

Tracey Emin / Edvard Munch: Loneliness of the Soul at Royal Academy of Arts. Until 30 May, £17. ★★★★☆ (Open daily). It will re-open post lockdown on 17 May.
Tracey Emin: Living under the Hunter's Moon at White Cube Mason's Yard. Until 30 January, free. ★★★☆☆ (Monday-Saturday)

Last Updated 04 March 2021