Anna McNay

Review of Sleepless: The Bed in History and Contemporary Art at 21er Haus, Vienna


Sleepless: The Bed in History and
Contemporary Art

21er Haus, Vienna

30 January – 7 June 2015

Seeing that the
21er Haus, Vienna, was putting on an exhibition about the bed in history and
contemporary art, thoughts immediately arose of Tracey Emin’s notorious My Bed
(1998), but since that is currently on display as part of a BP Spotlight at
Tate Britain, London, I was curious as to who else might have used this
familiar and everyday motif in their work. Pretty much everyone, it seems. This
tightly curated and fascinating exhibition brings together nearly 200 pieces,
from an erotic fresco from Pompeii in the first century AD, displayed in front
of a brothel, to, indeed, another of Tracey Emin’s beds (To Meet My Past, 2002),
quite different from her previously Saatchi-owned exemplar, a beautifully appliqued
and embroidered four-poster bed, remembering herself as a little girl, afraid
of the dark.

The exhibition is
broken down thematically, beginning with birth and moving through love,
loneliness, illness, death, violence, politics, myth and the anthropomorphic.
Each section is introduced by an informative and contextualising information
board, and then the works are left to speak for themselves, opening up cross-cultural,
cross-temporal and cross-spatial conversations.

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