What living artist would agree to a group show where the only other group member is Edvard Munch? A brave one, clearly: someone who doesn’t mind being called self-serving, self-aggrandizing, or self-obsessed. I can’t imagine a better partner for Munch than the 57-year-old painter and conceptualist Tracey Emin, because—like Munch—she’s been called all these things and worse and couldn’t care less. This is the same Tracey Emin who filled a gallery with giant selfies, who titled one of her creations Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995 (bet you can’t guess what it’s about!), and who turns discussion panels into one-woman shows. Her Expressionist canvases and confessional installations have the rawness of a private crisis—small wonder she’d be drawn to the creator of The Scream.
Emin’s public appearances, a staple of the U.K. scene since the 1990s, are bold, canny works of art in their own right. In pictures, her face never changes: Frida Kahlo eyebrows, flared nostrils, a pose as calculated as Tom Cruise’s grin. The Royal Academy’s new “Tracey Emin/Edvard Munch” show makes a strong case for its subjects as troubled soul-searchers. But there’s a more obvious point of comparison: they both rose to fame with brilliant self-promotion. The 1892 Berlin show that made Munch’s reputation closed after the organizers deemed him “diseased”—“I could hardly have had better publicity,” he wrote. A century later, Emin figured out that Brit-pop London was hungry for a brooding enfant terrible and never looked back.