Bed Art: Top five beds in art

Tracey Emin’s not the only person to use an art bed autobiographically. Bed Art is a much underrated genre in Art History that quite frankly deserves more funding. Here are a few of our favourite examples

Feature by Rosamund West | 06 Sep 2016

Nan Goldin’s Nan and Brian in Bed, NYC formed the cover image of the Ballad of Sexual Dependency, her groundbreaking photography cycle documenting her chaotic life on New York’s Lower East Side in the early 80s. This is unflinching, seminal Bed Art.

Édouard Manet’s Olympia was deemed shocking by contemporary audiences due to the inversion of the gaze (brazen) and because the subject is most likely a prostitute. It’s an interesting work from a feminist viewpoint because the shock value wasn’t caused by the fact it depicted a naked female form, rather the fact that this female had the audacity to levelly return the gaze of the (male) viewer, thereby challenging his traditional perving rights. “WHY DOESN’T SHE BOW HER HEAD IN SHAME?” they (presumably) bellowed.

Rachel Whiteread’s Untitled (Air Bed II) is a cast of an air bed and unusual in her practice as it is a literal replica of the source object – she’s better known for casts of the negative space created by the objects. It was made the year before the rather more ambitious House (a ghostly cast of an entire house interior in East London that won her the Turner Prize) and evokes similar eerie domestic memories.

Alison Watt is the epitome of Bed Art. Her entire career is based on painting bedsheets. The humans have departed but the crumpled sheets still allude to their forms. Sexual?

Lucien Freud’s Hotel Bedroom is a self-portrait with his second wife. The domestic tableau alludes to a hidden drama, and the painting was one of the last executed in his early style. Mrs Freud was reportedly a bit pissed he’d made her look so weirdly old. This classic of Bed Art ticks all the boxes – domestic allusions, a hint of autobiography, narrative drama. 

Tracey Emin: My Bed is at Tate Liverpool from 16 Sep