Surprisingly enough, when Tracey Emin attended this year's installment of Art Basel Miami Beach, it was her first trip to the city. She came to check out the opening of "Mark Handforth: Rolling Stop" at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami, where in two year's time her own major exhibition will kick off the week of Art Basel. She was so enthused by the spirit of the annual MOCA party, and its diverse group of revelers—her friend Julian Schnabel, Art Basel VIPs, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, throngs of North Miami teens, and Yves Jason, mayor of Port-au-Prince—that for a few moments she stood amongst the crowd in the exhibition and thought to herself, "this will be me in two years."
Naturally, Emin kept herself quite busy during the rest of the week, screening a video, Sometimes the Dress is Worth More than the Money (2001/2002) on the gigantic screen on the façade of Frank Gehry's New World Symphony building. And on top of working with my staff and me on her 2013 exhibition, she participated in two public programs as part of Art Basel's "Conversations" series—"Remembering Louise Bourgeois" and "The Future of Artistic Practice: The Artist as Poet," moderated by Hans Ulrich Obrist.
Despite the Sunday morning call time, the poetry panelists—Gerry Bibby, Olivier Garbay, Karl Holmqvist, Jonas Mekas and Emin—were remarkably perky. When it was Emin's turn to speak, she politely asked if she could stand so as to project emotion as she read. Although Emin planned to read poems she wrote during her visit, she giddily confessed, "I've been having a really good time here, and when I'm happy I can't write, it's impossible," adding, "writing is my friend and my companion and where my thoughts go." The only poem she could muster was very much out of character and resulted from rhyming words with Miami:
Miami, bon ami/ I am happy
A few days later, at BookMarc in the West Village, I went to see Emin read from her anthology My Life in a Column (Rizzoli), culled from her series published in the Independent from 2005 through '09. She was still on a high, informing the New York crowd how much she enjoyed visiting Miami. This was good news for me as it means she's looking forward to her return visits for her show. I also saw in this happy Tracey traces of her younger self from Why I Never Became a Dancer (1995), a film acquired by MOCA in 1998. Her narration in this film about her experience as a teenage outcast in her hometown, resort town of Margate, ends with her triumphant whirling dance to the beat of Sylvester's 1978 disco hit "You Make Me Feel."
Seeing Emin happy is an extraordinary event: her entire body forms a contagious smile. My wish for Emin is that she sustains this happiness or at least return to Miami whenever she wants her spirit to soar. Perhaps she might even find a way to write from a place of happiness.
Tracey Emin, amen/Amen
Bonnie Clearwater is the director and chief curator, Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami. She is currently organizing a major Tracey Emin exhibition opening in December 2013.
View videos of Art Basel Miami Beach "Conversations" on the Art Basel Miami Beach website.
Still from Why I Never Became a Dancer. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York.