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Tuck In: 6 Famous Beds in Art History

By Arts & Culture, Sex Issue 2017

Beds. Most of us have got ‘em.

Some come in wooden frames; some feature luxurious canopies; others, like mine, are literally just a mattress on the cold hard floor of a freezing Chicago apartment.

Whatever the configuration, beds are metaphorical. They represent the most intimate, vulnerable moments of our lives, from sleep to sex, from illness to just fucking depression-napping at three in the afternoon while Bojack Horseman blares from your partially opened laptop. Beds are both sites of great passion and the place where we find ourselves when we don’t want others to find us. It’s no wonder so many artists over time have utilized bed imagery in their work.  

Here are six pieces for your consideration.

Tracey Emin, “My Bed,” 1999
One of the most notorious bed-focused contemporary art pieces of all time, “My Bed” serves as Emin’s self-portrait following a traumatic, emotionally devastating breakup and subsequent breakdown. Who doesn’t know the feeling of emerging from your boudoir after a particularly rough time and noticing all the accumulated, leftover physical evidence? (Except maybe you and your healthy coping mechanisms, Karen.)  


Van Gogh, “Bedroom in Arles,” 1888/9
The bedroom so nice, he painted it twice (three times, actually). The superstar Dutch Post-Impressionist’s iconic interior is one of the most-recognized beds in art history. In 2016, the Art Institute of Chicago created a replica of the chambre, which was available to rent out through Airbnb.



Frida Kahlo, “The Dream (The Bed),” 1940
Kahlo is known for utilizing the imagery of a bed to represent tragedy and pain; a catastrophic trolley accident early in her life meant the artist spent many agonizing days in hers over the years. “The Dream” is a somewhat more humorous take on a memento mori. A skeleton, tangled up in dynamite, lies above the sleeping painter: It could all blow at any time. In real life, Frida did have a papier-mâché skeleton named Juda atop the canopy of her bed.


Lucian Freud, “Girl in Bed,” 1952
If you Google image search “Girl in Bed,” the results are almost entirely NSFW stock photos. The above entry isn’t actually much different, except it’s an expensive piece of fine art. The subject in Freud’s piece is writer Lady Catherine Blackwood, the only woman said to have broken Lucian Freud’s heart. This introspective portrait of her in a bed in Paris following their elopement is considered one of the artist’s best.


Edward Hopper, “Morning Sun,” (1952)
Rendered in Hopper’s usual contemplative, borderline-voyeuristic style, “Morning Sun” is a lonely scene of a young woman in bed, greeting the day dawning just outside the window of her barren room. She might be thinking, “How early is too early to order Chinese food?” or, “Why do white male artists hate women so much?” We can’t know.   

 

Michelangelo Pistoletto, “Bed,” 1976
One in a series of the Italian artist’s furniture sculptures, “Bed” looks like something waiting for you in that suspiciously cheap, “fully furnished” Edgewater studio you found on Chicago Queer Exchange. As a leading artist of the arte povera movement, Pistello often appropriated “low” and common objects in his works. That’s a bed for you: low and common.

One Response to Tuck In: 6 Famous Beds in Art History

  1. For sure Bob Rauschenberg’s Bed; the iconic photo in Nan Goldin’s Ballad of Sexual Dependency; artist Lee Mingwei’s project where he would spend the night with various visitors, Sophie Calle sleeping in the same bed with a dozen people, Andrea Fraser’s prostitution piece..endless examples!!

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