Tracey Emin / Edvard Munch – The Loneliness of the Soul. Royal Academy, Dec 2020

Royal Academy 15th Nov 2020 – 28th Feb 2021

In the strange time between lockdowns I was able to meet a friend and visit an exhibition. It seems like a simple statement, an everyday occurrence, but in the midst of another lockdown, with homeschooling and rising Coronavirus cases it is actually an unimaginable luxury.

This exhibition still sits with me, as a vivid feeling, more than just a memory.

A strange year for us all but for Tracey Emin more challenging than most as she revealed in October 2020 that she was recovering from an operation to remove a cancerous tumour. In November Emin’s exhibition – ‘Tracey Emin / Edvard Munch – The Loneliness of the Soul’ opened at the Royal Academy. Two artists born 100 years apart shown together. For Emin, a life-long lover of Edvard Munch’s work it must have been an unbelievable opportunity to curate such an exhibition.

Before I visit, not thinking I would actually get to see the exhibition in person with lockdown closures looming, I listened to the Talk Art Podcast and their interview with Emin. I am so glad I did, it was like a friend taking me by the hand and leading me through the rooms.

From noticing the deep blue wall colours inspired perhaps by a sofa(!), to the ‘cloud hang’ of Munch’s watercolours released from more formal rules of a gallery hang, intended by Emin to give us Munch as a – “spoilt amount of energy.” To being met by ‘Ruined’ and knowing the story of ‘Tin’ painted on the top of the canvas.

Hearing the words “If everything you say is true…” from the painting ‘I am the last of my kind’, 2019, read by Emin in a moment of of soul bearing clarity was a strange, powerful and poignant moment that really opened up the exhibition for me.

I think as I entered I was unprepared for how completely different the exhibition felt to seeing Munch at the British Museum in June 2019. Not worse or better, just different. It felt so much quieter than that big showcase, it felt intimate and personal. On the walls paintings echoed and mirrored each other, there were ripples and reverberations that travelled over the century that separates the two artists.

On the podcast, Emin talked about the context of how you see a painting –

“When paintings move into a different context, you have a different relationship with them or a different feeling.”

Tracey Emin – Talk Art Podcast

I have only really thought of context in terms of archaeology before, but of course it makes perfect sense. The way the two artist’s work talks to each other; bodies, passion, loneliness, love and loss, and even the physicality of the paint creates a moment unique to time and place.

Listening to Emin talk about the moment of creation you can feel the energy and inspiration and reflect on how Munch must also have felt that urge and need to be creative. It opens up avenues to seeing an artist who we chiefly know through the ubiquitous ‘Scream’.

Tracey Emin – The Hunters Moon, 2019

I can’t view anything without this prism of Covid and lockdown, at no time taking for granted a chance to be out with a friend and see art. We wandered over to see Emin’s other show ‘Living Under The Hunters Moon’ at the White Cube in Mason’s Yard. Another completely different experience. From the harrowing gut wrenching cries of a soul in torment from the video installation ‘Homage to Edvard Munch and All My Dead Children’ to the warm welcoming embrace of yellow, a corner turned, a small maquette, a slice of neon and a qiuet moment of contemplation.

In the podcast Emin talks of a ‘Faustian Pact’, the irresistible deal of having an exhibition (to have more than one) but not to know if anyone will get to see them because of lockdown. Would you still go through that process? Whether an artist creates work for themselves and no one else or creates work to be seen? Is it the gaze of others that creates great art and makes it special. I had not considered the eyes and connections on one square of canvas that transforms a private endeavour to something quite different.

I don’t think I have ever felt the energy of paint before in this way. Being privileged to share in that sheer moment of creativity with everything else stripped away was somehow lonely but also confusingly it made me feel connected to something bigger.

I felt dipped in a distilled room of pure energy, an affecting powerful memory that has lingered and been made all the more precious now that those sweet heady freedoms have been taken away.


Tracey Emin / Edvard Munch – The Loneliness of the Soul, is on at the Royal Academy from 15th Nov 2020 – 1 Aug 2021. Currently closed due to lockdown dates may change so check the website for the latest information.

You can see the virtual tour of the RA exhibition here –

Tracey Emin – Living Under the Hunters Moon is on at the White Cube Mason’s Yard 25th Nov 2020 – 30th Jan 2021.

You can find out more about the Talk Art Podcast here – the episode with Tracey Emin can be found on Spotify here

With thanks to Viking Cruises for my ticket.

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