Friday 22 May 2015

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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