Exit Emin Stage Right

17th June 2022

In 1997 Illuminations produced the live show, Is Painting Dead? Chaired by Tim Marlow, it featured Norman Rosenthal, Tracey Emin, Matthew Collings, Richard Cork, Jane Harris, Waldemar Januszczak, Martin Maloney, and Roger Scruton to discuss the titular question.

The show itself might have become a historical curiosity, a discussion on the nature of art broadcast live on British TV back when those things were a possibility. It would have been, had it not been for Tracey Emin. Emin had turned up drunk and began to steadily get more and more annoyed with her fellow guests, starting with a “You’re wrong! You’re wrong! You’re wrong!” directed at Roger Scruton, then announced that she was drunk and wanted to speak to her mum and be with her friends. Finally, she angrily and awkwardly removed her microphone, made all the more inelegant by the almost comically placed finger splint attached to her, and stormed out. And thus, not just a piece of TV history was born but a small piece of British cultural history.

The previous week in New York she had fallen out of a taxi drunk and had broken her finger. Emin claimed that the combination of prescription painkillers alongside her alcohol consumption during the 1997 Turner Prize awards dinner, which preceded the recording of the discussion, had rendered her insensible.

In Artrage!: The Story of the BritArt Revolution, Elizabeth Fullerton writes that when she did re-join her friends she had no recollection of the event. Indeed, her then-boyfriend, Mat Collishaw, recounts that she had thought she had missed the TV show and bemoaned the fact that she had lost out on the £500 fee. When a friend called Emin the next morning to congratulate her on her performance, Emin thought her leg was being pulled. The Guardian at the time wrote, “Tuesday’s performance may be hailed as Tracey Emin’s most significant, certainly her most entertaining, contribution to British art.” Emin herself told the South China Morning Post in 2015 that she wasn’t even aware that she was on television.

Emin would go on to be nominated for the 1999 Turner Prize which would cement her public infamy with her piece, Bed, but it was her appearance on Is Painting Dead? that arguably announced her to the world. Illuminations would produce a documentary on Emin as part of our theEYE series, which was released in 2003.

We’ve posted the entire clip on our YouTube channel. Watch below.

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