LONDON – The National Portrait Gallery has acquired Death Mask by British artist Tracey Emin. The portrait has been purchased for £67,500 with a contribution of £30,000 from the Art Fund, and further support from White Cube and the artist.
Death Mask was unveiled today at the National Portrait Gallery accompanying a new display “Life, Death and Memory,” which looks at the complex and sometimes troubling relationship between portraiture and mortality, drawing together historic and contemporary works from the Gallery’s Collection.
In an ironic reference to the autobiographical nature of her work, Emin (b. 1963) cast her own “death mask” during her lifetime, creating her first sculptural work in bronze in 2002.
At the heart of the artist’s preoccupation with self-disclosure and her constant engagement with, and exploration of, her own life and body, Emin says that in this work she offers herself in perpetuity as an enclosed specimen or museum display, literally transforming herself into an object for the scrutiny of generations to come.
The portrait joins one other work by the artist in the Gallery’s Collection, Tracey Emin (‘The Last Thing I said to you is don’t leave me here. 1’), a photographic print from the year 2000.
Tracey Emin studied at Maidstone College of Art (1986-88) and the Royal College of Art (1987-89). Her work discloses the intimate details of her life across a range of media. Notable works include Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995 (1995), shown at the Sensation exhibition (Royal Academy, 1997), and My Bed (1998). Emin represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 2007 and was elected a Royal Academician in the same year. She was awarded a CBE in 2012.
Rab MacGibbon, curator of “Life, Death and Memory” and associate curator at the National Portrait Gallery, London, commented: “Artists have frequently explored their mortality in self-portraits. Tracey Emin’s Death Mask, the newly acquired bronze cast of the artist’s face, blurs the distinctions between life and death, art and identity.”